Regional Bloc Summit Focuses on Afghanistan, Economic Cooperation

Posted June 6th, 2012 at 3:25 am (UTC-5)
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The future of Afghanistan is high on the agenda as the leaders of China, Russia and four central Asian states kick off an annual summit in Beijing on Wednesday.

Ahead of the two-day meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Chinese President Hu Jintao said he envisions the regional bloc playing a deeper role in Afghanistan as foreign troops wind down military engagement.

In an interview carried by Chinese state media, President Hu said the six-member grouping should work more closely to safeguard regional peace and stability. But he did not specifically mention how the group could play a bigger role in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday welcomed greater Chinese participation in his country. Speaking to a group of university students in Beijing, Mr. Karzai said he soon plans to sign a strategic partnership agreement with China.

“China, being the second largest economy in the world, and rapidly advancing country in the world, and luckily – very, very luckily – being a neighbor of Afghanistan, is high on our agenda in relationships. And in that sense, Afghanistan will be expanding and strengthening relations with China and concerning China on all other aspects.”

Afghanistan is expected to gain “observer” status at the grouping, whose member states fear growing instability spilling across the region as the pullout proceeds. President Hu and Afghan President Hamid Karzai will later hold separate talks at the summit.

The SCO was established in 2001, in part to curb the influence of the Western military alliance NATO. But the often fractured grouping has since expanded its goals to include wider economic cooperation.

In addition to China and Russia, the group includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The four Central Asian states are former Soviet republics.

India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan also have observer status, which allows them to take part in sideline consultations during SCO meetings.