Uprisings to be ignored by regional grouping

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 June, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 June, 2005, 12:00am

Summit will focus on curbing terrorism and promoting economic co-operation

After weathering political turbulence in two member states, the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation will underline its pledge to fight terrorism and promote economic co-operation at a summit next month, Secretary-General Zhang Deguang said.

The fledgling regional group marked its fourth anniversary on Wednesday and - following political upheaval in Kyrgyzstan and street riots in Uzbekistan - world attention will be focused on the summit to gauge the group's future.

The leaders of the group's member states - China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - will meet in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, on July 5 and endorse initiatives to strengthen co-operation.

'The summit will be an important milestone in the development of the organisation,' Mr Zhang said. The social and political turmoil this spring should not mask the fact that these Central Asian countries had made strides in social and economic reforms since becoming independent, he said.

That progress, however, would be in peril if those countries or their neighbours continued to be rocked by instability and violence.

Mr Zhang identified three forces - terrorism, religious extremism and separatism - as the key sources of volatility threatening social and economic progress in the region.

'Problems exist in economic development and social transformation, but they should be resolved through peaceful means of law and order, not through violence on the streets,' he said.

Last month, Andijan in eastern Uzbekistan erupted into violence; police fired into a crowd of demonstrators protesting against the government of President Islam Karimov.

Mr Zhang said promoting so-called 'colour revolutions' was dangerous because democracy could not be divorced from a country's unique history. 'Colour revolutions' refer to protests in post-communist countries against governments seen as entrenched and authoritarian.

'Forcing democracy on a country will backfire,' he said, adding that the society would suffer because extremists were poised to fish in troubled waters.

In the face of such threats, the organisation must strengthen its solidarity and never compromise on the joint fight against terrorism.

After the coup in Kyrgyzstan in March, the new government pledged to continue full participation in the grouping, Mr Zhang said.

But it would be complacent to predict smooth sailing for the organisation from now on. If the turmoil should become serious, co-operation would be affected. 'Let's hope it won't happen,' he said.

Since the sovereignty of member states must be respected, the SCO has no mechanism for cross-border intervention.

In the past four years, the organisation has set up the institutional framework of a general secretariat in Beijing and an anti-terrorism centre in Tashkent, as well as regular meetings of foreign ministers, prime ministers and heads of state.

The group also put the objectives of fighting terrorism and promoting economic development on the same footing.

On the economic front, the organisation has more than 120 projects for multilateral co-operation, ranging from standardisation of road transport to energy co-operation.

The goal is to establish a free-trade zone in 20 years.

In answer to criticism that the grouping was long on talk and short on action, Mr Zhang said the first four years were about laying foundations, and some of the hard work would begin to show results in the coming years.