Security and energy on agenda for Wen's trip
Shi Jiangtao and Ng Tze Wei in Beijing
Premier Wen Jiabao will embark on a trip to Central Asia and Russia later this week, with securing energy supplies from the oil-rich region and fighting terrorist threats and the illicit drug trade in the western province of Xinjiang expected to be high on his agenda.
According to Assistant Foreign Minister Li Hui, the Iranian nuclear issue will also be raised during Mr Wen's talks with his Russian counterpart, Viktor Zubkov, and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow next week.
Mr Wen will start his five-day tour in Uzbekistan, where he will attend a summit of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation on Friday. He will also visit Turkmenistan, and Belarus.
The six-member regional organisation, in which China plays a key role, has attracted world attention over the growing strategic, military and trade links among its member states, whose other members are Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Beijing has been keen to draw Central Asian republics closer to help contain separatist threats from rebel groups in Xinjiang and across its western borders and boost fuel links for its energy-hungry economy.
'It is the first overseas visit by a Chinese leader after the Communist Party's 17th National Congress and an important diplomatic event this year,' Mr Li said.
He said terrorist activities organised by the three forces - a reference to terrorism, separatism and extremism - were rampant in Central Asia after Uzbekistan's crushing of a revolt in Andijon in 2005. 'The activities of the three forces, including those of the East Turkestan terrorist forces, have never stopped and have damaged regional peace and stability,' he said.
He defended Beijing's warming military ties with Moscow and Central Asian countries, which has prompted expressions of concern from the US and European countries.
'Our aim is as one - to uphold the fight against terrorism and smash the East Turkestan terrorist organisation, and to maintain peace and security to push regional development,' he said.
Beijing has insisted the Islamic militants in Xinjiang are backed by international terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. It killed 18 militants and arrested 17 during a raid in January on a camp in the mountains of southern Xinjiang's Pamir Plateau, which Beijing claimed was run by the pro-independence East Turkestan Islamic Movement.
Xinjiang has also been hit hard by the booming illicit drug trade in Central Asia, becoming a trafficking and dealing hub.
The amount of heroin seized by Xinjiang police in the first eight months of the year was 12 times more than the haul during the same period last year, at: 70kg