China to discuss ways to boost central Asian ties
BEIJING PREMIER Wen Jiabao will discuss the global economic crisis and his vision for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization when he meets next week with his counterparts from the regional grouping, seen by Beijing as a vehicle for extending Chinese influence in Central Asia. Wen and the other prime ministers of the six member countries would issue a statement on the world financial problems at the SCO meeting on November 7 in St Petersburg, Vice- Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping told reporters. He said the organisation, which also includes Russia and the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, would discuss greater economic integration and strengthening the SCO’s institutions. The meeting should “inject vitality into regional development, stability and prosperity,” Cheng said. The SCO took its present form in 2001 with the initial goals of addressing religious extremism and border security in Central Asia, but has grown into a bloc aimed at challenging US influence in the region. Its meetings also include the leaders of its dialogue partners and observer members, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Mongolia. Cheng didn’t say what specific proposals Wen would make, although China has sought to promote the use of its currency in regional trade and has been a keen participant in SCO anti-terrorism exercises. China is also eager to expand its access to Central Asian oil and natural gas, although it has yet to resolve a two-year-old dispute with Russia over the price of gas to be delivered by two Siberian pipelines, symbolising the difficulties the former Cold War rivals still have in cooperating. Wen is also due to hold a series of bilateral meetings in St Petersburg with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and other leaders. Dominated by China and Russia, the SCO has provided a forum for China to display its rising diplomatic influence, as well as its concept of governing combining authoritarian politics and rapid economic development, in contrast to the US-style multiparty democracy that has slowly made inroads among the former Soviet republics.