Central Asian talks upbeat, but vague

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 August, 2007, 12:00am

Beijing's looming influence in Central Asia looked set to grow as President Hu Jintao met regional leaders in Bishkek yesterday, promising investment and trade.

But in speeches couched in sweeping terms and praises, it remained unclear what form these promises would take.

Mr Hu met the Kyrgyz prime minister and parliamentary speaker and the president of Tajikistan, and was expected to meet the leaders of Afghanistan, Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Iran in the afternoon.

He is in Kyrgyzstan for talks with representatives of the other five members of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation and four observer countries.

They will hold a summit today.

Sitting across from Mr Hu at the government residence, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev said: 'In the 15 years since we have had diplomatic relations, we have had good relations, both strategic and economic, with China, and we are grateful to the great country of China for that.'

Mr Atambayev requested that a gas pipeline that is being built from Turkmenistan to the mainland through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan go via Kyrgyzstan.

The pipeline will pump 30 billion cubic metres of gas a year by 2009. Mr Atambayev was unclear whether there were plans for the pipeline or it was merely a suggestion.

China and Turkmenistan, the second-largest producer of gas in the region, have not revealed a preferred route.

But Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous country with an average altitude of 2,750 metres, is not ideal terrain for a gas pipeline.

During Mr Hu's next meeting, Kyrgyz Supreme Council Speaker Marat Sultanov said: 'We want to learn from your country. The results we have reaped are in a large part thanks to China.

'The most important thing for us is open markets, friendly relations and the opportunity for bilateral investment. For Kyrgyzstan, this is more important than any kind of credit.'

Later, Mr Hu met Tajik President Emomalii Rahmon, who had arrived a few hours earlier.

They noted the growth in their co-operation and discussed bilateral relations and international issues.