Wen Jiabao

Wen to push for trade agreements at SCO meeting in Kyrgyzstan

Premier seen pursuing economic agreements at Shanghai Co-operation Organisation summit this week before travelling to Moscow

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 December, 2012, 2:33pm

Premier Wen Jiabao is expected to make a push for economic and energy co-operation with a bloc of central Asian countries and Russia when he attends the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) summit this week.

Wen will travel to Kyrgyzstan for the 11th prime ministers' meeting of SCO member states, and then to Moscow for meetings with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and President Vladimir Putin, in a three-day trip beginning tomorrow.

The last SCO summit, held in Beijing in June, saw the six-country bloc - which also includes Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - present a united front on major international issues, with Beijing and Moscow criticised for voting against a United Nations resolution calling for stronger action against Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime.

However, analysts expect Wen to focus on energy deals and economic talks this time around, further promoting initiatives discussed during the bloc's previous meetings but not yet finalised because support from other member states, including Russia, was lacking.

Also this week, Vice-Premier Wang Qishan will travel to Russia and Kazakhstan for energy talks.

Moscow and Beijing have previously said that negotiations on a huge natural gas supply deal, which would see Russia supplying 68 billion cubic metres of gas to China each year for the next three decades, would soon enter their final stage. But an agreement is anything but guaranteed amid disagreements over pricing.

Chinese vice foreign minister Cheng Guoping said in a press briefing ahead of the visit that both countries would engage in negotiation on natural gas cooperation.

"Under the joint effort of both sides, I believe substantial progress will be achieved," he said.

But Tian Chunsheng, a Russian affairs expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said an agreement was "unlikely," adding that "the two sides will seek progress in some related areas, such as what responsibilities would be undertaken by each country, in terms of the design and maintenance of the pipeline."

Beijing, seeking to exert more influence in Central Asia, has been pouring aid into the region. President Hu Jintao pledged in June to make US$10 billion in loans, to support economic co-operation. China also vowed to establish a development bank to support members' projects.

Cheng said a joint declaration would be released after the summit, and member states were expected to sign a number of co-operation memorandums, including on protection of intellectual property rights.

Professor Zhang Jianrong of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences said many central Asian countries were eyeing Chinese investment, but that some Beijing initiatives could not be implemented because of Russian resistance.

"Both countries are seeking dominant positions in the region, and Russia is not very comfortable with that," Zhang said. "Some central Asian countries are being cautious about accepting Chinese loans, because they are concerned about Russian interests."

The SCO development bank overlaps with the Eurasian Development Bank founded by Russia and Kazakhstan in 2006.

Wen will need to address such concerns and win support from other member states by stressing the benefits of co-operating with China, Zhang added.

"If results cannot be generated in a multi-lateral forum, China will push the agenda forward through bilateral and direct communications with the countries," he said.

Sun Zhuangzhi, a scholar of Central Asia studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the bloc may reach agreement on building a transport network that covers all SCO members.

China's trade with SCO members rose from US$12.1 billion in 2001 to US$113.4 billion last year.

"Trade will be the top agenda item for the summit, because the international financial crisis still lingers," said Professor Li Xing, a professor of Russian studies at Beijing Normal University.

Zhang said the bloc could also discuss stability in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of foreign troops there in 2014, as Beijing fears this could affect security in the western Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.