Bloc set to flex its muscles at summit
When the six member states of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) gather in Beijing for the group's annual summit tomorrow, they are expected to push an agenda showing the bloc is becoming more united and able to cast a larger influence on global affairs.
Since the organisation's establishment 11 years ago, its members - China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan - have been clear about their desire to distance the group from any alliance with Nato.
And analysts say the SCO, which focuses largely on security-related concerns in Central Asia, is likely this week to discuss the recent US-led Nato missile defence facilities in Europe that Moscow says could intercept all missiles launched from Russia.
'The SCO believes the Nato initiative will affect regional security, and this is expected to be an agenda item for the annual summit,' said Li Xing , an expert in international affairs at Beijing Normal University.
The SCO has previously been used as a platform for criticising the West. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose country acts as an observer in the SCO, has made verbal attacks at the summit against the US, whose application for observer status in the bloc was rejected in 2006.
Xing Guangcheng , an expert on Russian affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, pointed to membership requests from observer nations such as India and Pakistan as evidence of the SCO's growing prominence in recent years.
However, some analysts said the SCO has yet to make a significant impact, even though it has adopted declarations and statements at past summits, because each member has its own agenda. Some internal disputes among members have made it difficult to form a united front.
With China chairing the summit this year, the bloc is expected to pass its first comprehensive plan, vowing to expand the bloc from focusing on security co-operations to being an economic and geopolitical alliance.
The summit is also expected to welcome Afghanistan as an observer and Turkey, a Nato member, as a dialogue partner.
'The inclusion of Turkey as dialogue partner carries symbolic meaning,' said Zhang Jianrong , a Central Asia affairs expert at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. 'It implies that the SCO is open to co-operation with any country, and that the SCO may even co-operate with the West in the future.'
Pan Zhiping , a Central Asia affairs scholar at the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences, said: 'The influence of the SCO is limited because it largely focuses on security issues, which alone can't sustain the bloc.'
Shi Ze , a research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, said welcoming Afghanistan as an observer was important to the SCO, especially as Nato planned to pull combat troops out of the war-torn country by 2014.
'Nato leaving Afghanistan will create uncertainty in the Central Asia region, and countries in the region need to prepare to deal with any emergency that emerges after the pull-out,' Shi said.
'The SCO has a role to play in this regard.'
On the economic front, the six members states will likely discuss plans to help each other combat financial crises, along with plans to build a road network linking St Petersburg with Lianyungang in the eastern province of Jiangsu , although Foreign Ministry officials don't expect a formal agreement to be reached.
On the sidelines of the summit, Beijing is expected to work with Russia to help offset US influence in the Asia-Pacific region.
Deputy Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping said at a briefing last week that China and Russia would sign a joint declaration in which the countries lay down principles for co-operation in the Asia-Pacific region.
'Both countries share some common interest in the region, and Russia has put more focus on Asia-Pacific in recent years. The region will be an important agenda point for both sides,' Xing said.
Officials are expected to talk to Ahmadinejad about Tehran's recent decision to cancel a US$2 billion dam contract it signed with China, while Tehran is expected to seek Beijing's support against US sanctions imposed on Iran's nuclear programme.
Analysts expect Beijing to handle the nuclear situation delicately, as it wants to protect its investment interests in Iran while not offending the US.