Vladimir Putin

West's eyes on Hu and Putin in Kyrgyzstan

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 August, 2007, 12:00am

The Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) was little-known when it was formed in 2001, but as President Hu Jintao prepares for its summit in Kyrgyzstan next Thursday, global attention is growing.

'Without doubt, the international community should pay attention,' said Sergei Shtogrin, a Russian parliamentary deputy who co-ordinates the State Duma group on relations with the National People's Congress.

'The SCO is working on big issues, particularly international security, and its countries make up one-quarter of the world's population.'

The SCO comprises the countries of a predecessor organisation, the Shanghai Five, that was created in 1996 - China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan - plus Uzbekistan.

At its inception, the SCO was a minor organisation that was not expected to last.

It focused on tackling regional terrorism, stopping the narcotics trade from Afghanistan and establishing a free-trade zone between member countries - issues that failed to receive widespread media attention.

But experts say all eyes will be on the SCO next Thursday and Friday when Mr Hu, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the other heads of member states gather for a summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and observe joint military manoeuvres in Chelyabinsk, Russia.

'The SCO has proven itself to be a beast that is sustainable,' said Boris Makarenko, first deputy director of the Moscow-based Centre for Political Technologies think-tank. 'It is alive and has a real agenda.'

Western countries are expected to follow the summit closely as speculation rises that China and Russia, which in recent years have increased bilateral arms and military co-operation, are building an anti-US and anti-Nato strategic alliance.

The two states conducted military exercises on the Shandong Peninsula two years ago, with 10,000 troops staging an amphibious assault and air and naval blockades.

Observers saw that as a thinly veiled threat against Taiwan. Similar suspicions have been raised that this year's manoeuvres are a demonstration of strength against Nato and the United States.

The Pentagon and the global intelligence community, which watch Russian arms sales to China closely, will be paying attention to the military manoeuvres, said Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russia and Eurasia programme at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

The west will also be watching for SCO moves to extend membership to four countries that currently have observer status - India, Mongolia, Pakistan and Iran - and how it proceeds with Afghanistan.

Dr Kuchins said the US government saw the organisation 'more as an irritant than a threat'.


In addition to defence, the SCO also helps for doing business

The value of infrastructure deals signed on the sidelines of the summit in Shanghai, in June last year (US dollars): $}2b