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Central Asia: Shanghai Cooperation Organization Signs Agreement In Bishkek

  • Valentinas Mite --> The Council of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) met today in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek. Officials from the member countries -- Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and China -- discussed plans to develop regional economic cooperation and signed an economic agreement. The group was formed in 1996 to fight terrorism and Islamic extremism, but now is taking on other priorities aimed at regional development.

23 September 2004 -- The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) approved today an agreement to cooperate on trade, science, technology, humanitarian projects, and terrorism.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said the new accord also includes concrete measures that will also boost the regional fight against separatism and terrorism: "It is evident as never before that we need close correlation between practical economic cooperation and dealing with new challenges and threats. As we become strong economically, our unity in the antiterrorist drive becomes stronger."

Other participants agreed that terrorism is an urgent priority.
Fradkov called for harmonizing tax laws to create a "favorable business climate" in the member countries.

Utkir Sultanov, deputy prime minister of Uzbekistan, condemned recent terrorist acts in Russia and urged unity in fighting the threat: "Recent terrorist acts in the brotherly country of Russia, which killed hundreds of peaceful civilians, once again indicates that terrorism has geographic, religious, and racial attributes."

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev added that the SCO has the potential to improve both security and stability in the region as well as economic conditions.

The SCO was formed in 1996 as part of confidence building measures between China and the CIS states it bordered. Under the terms of the first agreement all five countries were required to remove strategic warplanes, heavy armor, and some troops back 100 kilometers from the border. But China and Russia have also pushed the SCO to counter increased U.S. influence in Central Asia since the 11 September 2001 attacks on America, which led to U.S. troops deploying to the region for operations in neighboring Afghanistan.

The agreement on cooperation in trade, science, and technology and humanitarian projects was first approved in Beijing in September 2004.

Tanayev said the meeting in Bishkek has given that agreement "concrete substance" to improve trade and harmonize the countries' legal frameworks.

In his speech, Fradkov called for harmonizing tax laws to create a "favorable business climate" in the member countries. He said the organization should work out a concept for a unified gas, oil, and energy transportation system. Fradkov also said Russia is ready to hold a meeting on energy issues within the organization by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said their countries would next week start the construction of a pipeline from oil-rich Kazakhstan to China, whose rapid growth has made it hungry for energy. Akhmetov praised the achievements of the SCO: "Kazakhstan considers its participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization a priority task and expects significant results from the plan for multilateral economic cooperation."

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan told journalists that the Bishkek meeting and its adopted documents will "be of great importance for the future development of this regional organization."

However, analysts and some of the meeting's participants say the SCO still needs to improve as an organization.

Tajik Deputy Prime Minister Asadullo Gulomov said there is a lot to be done to increase the cooperation among SCO countries: "However, the economic relations in the region are restricted to import-export operations. At the same time, other forms of economic cooperation -- such as mutual economic projects, mutual enterprises, scientific and economic cooperation or implementation of new technologies -- are still lagging behind."

The next SCO meeting is scheduled for Moscow in September 2005.