Shanghai group aims to keep US in
check By Sergei Blagov
- While refraining from overt criticism of the United
States, an emerging organization that embraces Russia,
China, and Central Asian states has indicated its
concern over American unilateralism in the region.
When the presidents of the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization (SCO) - a six-member group that comprises
Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and
Uzbekistan - met in Tashkent on Thursday, they pledged
to address regional security concerns. The SCO also
vowed to become a full-fledged international
organization. In fact, its efforts can be seen as aimed
at countering US clout in the region.
President Vladimir Putin made no secret of the fact that
Moscow has been keen to use a variety of groups to exert
its influence across the region. "The voice of Russia
will be heard here," Putin told reporters after the
To ensure its voice is heard, Moscow
relies on economic incentives. Russia is to continue
providing economic aid, including low cost energy
supplies, to the former Soviet states, notably members
of the SCO, Putin said in Tashkent.
SCO summit, Putin and Uzbek President Islam Karimov
signed a partnership agreement and a US$1 billion
35-year production-sharing agreement (PSA) to develop
Uzbek natural gas deposits. Under the PSA, top Russian
oil producer LUKoil is to develop the Kandym, Khauzak
and Shady gas fields in the south of the country, which
have 280 billion cubic meters of proven reserves. LUKoil
will have a 90% share in the project, with Uzbekistan's
Uzbekneftegaz holding the remaining 10%.
Russia's natural gas monopoly Gazprom is also to
invest $1 billion in Uzbekistan, Putin announced.
Gazprom's investment will boost Russian involvement in
Uzbekistan to $2.5 billion, Karimov said.
came up with its own economic carrot . President Hu
Jintao reportedly offered nearly $1 billion in credit to
the SCO Central Asian states to boost economic
The SCO leaders were joined by
Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Karzai attended the talks
as a guest, while the SCO granted Mongolia observer
status. However, the SCO approved creation of the
SCO-Afghanistan contact group.
Putin said the
SCO was open to other states, but it was too early to
discuss Afghanistan's membership. "We are all interested
in normalization in Afghanistan, but any state should
fit certain parameters to become a member of the SCO,"
Putin said without elaborating further.
should not rush with accepting new SCO members," Uzbek
President Islam Karimov said, adding that he expressed
Russia's and China's opinion as well.
It was not
said in public, of course, but Russian commentators
explained the SCO's reservations over Afghanistan's
membership as being due to Karzai's largely pro-American
stance. Russia's Kommersant daily commented that an
ultimate goal of the "certain parameters" argument was
to limit growing US influence in the region.
presidents signed the Tashkent Declaration, which calls
for enhanced cooperation with Asia-Pacific forums, as
well as urging the creation of a "cooperative system of
regional security" in the Asia-Pacific. In the
declaration, the leaders also called for close
cooperation with the United Nations, yet another
implicit criticism of American unilateralism.
The leaders also launched the SCO anti-terror
center in Tashkent, a think tank and information
exchange center for member states.
been seen as increasing its security ties in Central
Asia through the SCO. Notably, China has committed
itself for the first time to a regional collective
security agreement. The SCO anti-terrorist rapid
deployment forces could be used to help enforce border
security along with other members of the Shanghai group.
Nonetheless, the SCO still seeks to be a
geopolitical player in Central Asian security
developments, a trend also reflected in bilateral
defense ties between Russia and China. Last December,
Moscow and Beijing clinched a deal under which China
would procure $2 billion worth of Russian military
hardware and technologies in 2004.
When in June
2001 the informal Shanghai Five group of states became
the SCO, member states envisioned the organization as a
counterweight to growing US economic and political
influence. In June 2002, the leaders of the five states
plus Uzbekistan agreed to base the SCO secretariat in
Beijing and to establish the joint anti-terrorism
Russia and China have reluctantly
tolerated the US strategic presence in Central Asia.
They are concerned that permanent American bases in the
region would be primarily designed to limit Beijing and
Moscow's influence in Central Asia.
the US has made moves toward establishing a long-term
presence in Central Asia, in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and
Kyrgyzstan. During a visit to Uzbekistan last February,
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indicated that the
US wanted to establish operating facilities and not
permanent bases. In pledging that a potential US
presence does not mean a large-scale military
deployment, US officials hope to limit Russian and
Chinese opposition to these plans for Central Asia.
Moscow has been insisting that the US military
presence in the region is temporary and should be ended
after anti-terrorism action in Afghanistan. Russia would
accept US bases in Central Asia no longer than the
anti-terrorism operation in Afghanistan, Moscow has
repeatedly reiterated. It is understood that Karimov has
drifted towards Russia after being targeted by Western
criticism over human rights violations.
meantime, Russia has been keen to rely on any
post-Soviet grouping in order to push its agenda in
Central Eurasia. Last month, Russia moved to join a
purely Central Asian grouping, the Central Asian
Cooperation Organization, which includes Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
on June 18-19, two Russia-dominated post-Soviet
groupings, the Eurasian Economic Commonwealth (EEC) and
Collective Security Organization Treaty (CSTO), hold
their summits in the Kazakhstan capital, Astana. The EEC
summit is to discuss multilateral economic integration,
while the CSTO is to address regional security concerns.
Russia's - and presumably China's - perceived
strategic purpose remains to counterweigh American and
Western influence in Central Eurasia. However, the SCO
and other groupings are yet to prove their viability as
vehicles to check US unilateralism in the region.
(Copyright 2004 Asia Times Online Ltd. All
rights reserved. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for
information on our sales and syndication policies.)
Jun 19, 2004
material from Asia Times Online may be republished in any form without written
2003, Asia Times Online, 4305 Far East Finance Centre, 16 Harcourt Rd,
Central, Hong Kong