Vladimir Putin

Expansion on cards for central asia bloc

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 May, 2012, 12:00am


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The Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) is set to approve its first comprehensive strategic plan at its summit in Beijing next month, which could pave the way to upgrade the regional security group to an economic and geopolitical alliance as well.

The six-nation group's June 6 meeting, in which it will likely adopt Afghanistan as an observer and Turkey as a dialogue partner, comes amid a recent push by the United States to increase its influence in the Asia-Pacific region.

The inclusion of the two nations and the effort to expand its scope has led some observers to wonder whether the SCO could develop into a fully fledged regional group, like Asean, or a platform to counter Nato's influence.

Mainland analysts, however, say such speculation is premature. And Deputy Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping rejected comparisons of the group to Nato.

'The SCO is an organisation concerned with political, economic and security co-operation,' Cheng said yesterday. 'It doesn't have a military function. Therefore it can't be compared to Nato.'

Nevertheless, Cheng described a plan to expand the SCO into a larger and more permanent platform for co-operation on issues beyond the traditional security concerns in the organisation's second decade.

The group, which was founded in 2001, also includes Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan have observer status.

'The international situation is going through some complex and deep changes, and factors of instability and uncertainty are increasing,' Cheng said. 'Member states are harbouring higher expectations for the role of the SOC.

'The wish for greater growth of the SOC is also more urgent and more determined.'

Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran are among the leaders expected to attend.

Cheng confirmed that energy co-operation, including protracted talks over a natural gas pipeline project to Russia, would be discussed.

Mainland analysts said more time was needed to understand what the SCO was capable of achieving.

'If both China and Russia want to do more, the SCO can do more,' said Professor Sun Zhe , of Tsinghua University. 'However, the SCO faces two dilemmas. They need to appear they are not targeting the US and Nato and they need to step up economic co-operation.'

Military expert Ni Lexiong said he expected economic co-operation to take priority over increased military ties as Nato prepared to exit Afghanistan.

Central Asia expert Pan Zhiping , of Xinjiang University, said the vast differences among the countries of Central Asia made it difficult for the SCO to become a comprehensive alliance, like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

'The SCO is a very young platform,' Pan said. 'For China, the fundamental focus is still security, which it thinks can only be solidified by economic growth. But to make the relationship stronger, we also need an exchange of people and culture to enhance understanding.'