Diplomatic contacts between Bishkek and Beijing are intensifying ahead of the August summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Bishkek. Last week SCO defense minister conferred in Bishkek. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi will pay an official visit to Kyrgyzstan on July 7-8, meeting his Kyrgyz counterpart, Ednan Karabayev. Yang will also attend the meeting of SCO foreign ministers scheduled for July 9 in Bishkek and discuss with Kyrgyz officials the prospects for Sino-Kyrgyz relations. Public protests are planned for July 8-9 in Bishkek calling for the withdrawal of the U.S. military from the Manas base.
In addition, a communiqué was issued confirming that the SCO will hold counter-terrorist exercises in Russia in August. “Peace Mission-2007” will boost the SCO’s credentials as an effective means of countering terrorism within Central Asia as well as facilitate the organization’s efforts to project a proactive image.
The defense ministers of Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan signed two documents on holding SCO military exercises in Chelyabinsk region. Russian Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov said the SCO was not formed to threaten or oppose anyone, but rather to offer a means for participants to counter terrorism and ensure the security of member states. Serdyukov emphasized that the SCO is a transparent organization, and a fairly benign one at that (Kyrgyz TV 1, June 27).
Serdyukov called the agreement on the SCO exercises a success for Russian diplomacy, establishing Moscow’s commitment to the SCO, while not being outdone by Beijing’s agenda. “The exercise codenamed ‘Peace Mission-2007’ is planned to be held at a general military training ground near the town of Chebarkul in Chelyabinsk region August 9-17, 2007. In view of this, I inform you that all the main preparatory measures for the exercise have currently been completed. Officials at the Russian Defense Ministry believe that the forthcoming large-scale exercise will be an important event in the life of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization,” Serdyukov said (Interfax, June 27).
Serdyukov advanced Russia’s view of the alleged “double-standards” involved in the response to the challenge of international terrorism. The Bishkek gathering became a platform to attack the U.S. approach to the global War on Terror and contrast it negatively with the allegedly unified view among SCO members. “The SCO member states have an exact and very clear position on the fight against terrorism. Our countries know first-hand what terrorism is, and we realize perfectly well that terrorism is becoming a common enemy of the whole world community,” Serdyukov said. He expressed regret that other countries fail to share this view of terrorism, making oblique reference to the United States. “Attempts are still being made to use this topic for the sake of achieving [individual] benefits to the detriment of others’ interests,” he suggested. Kyrgyz defense officials appeared to concur with this Russian viewpoint and once again raised concerns on the durability of the long-term U.S. military presence in Kyrgyzstan, increasingly following a Moscow-led approach to security issues (Interfax-Kazakhstan, June 27).
“Having China and Russia develop long-term and stable, good-neighborly, friendly, and cooperative relations corresponds with the fundamental interests of the two countries and two peoples and is beneficial to promoting regional and world peace, security, and stability,” Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan noted. Serdyukov was equally keen to play up the potential for the SCO through improved relations between its two principal powers: “Russia-China friendship has run a long course. Promoted by leaders of the two countries and with the joint efforts of both sides, the two countries’ friendly relations have become further consolidated, strategic partnership has further strengthened, cooperation in various fields has constantly widened, and the level of cooperation has constantly risen. Russia-China relations have reached the highest level in history. Russia and China developing mutually beneficial, cooperative, and friendly relations is conducive to the two countries’ prosperity and development as well as to world and regional peace and stability,” he suggested.
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev regarded the meeting of SCO defense ministers as key to achieving deeper counter-terrorist cooperation. Bakiyev sees the August summit as an important chance to establish Kyrgyz interests and input into the Sino-Russia-dominated dominated organization. Cao, Kazakh Defense Minister Daniyal Akhmetov, Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Khayrulloyev, and Uzbek Deputy Defense Minister Rustam Niyozov also discussed the military priorities of the SCO.
Cao thanked the Kyrgyz side for organizing the defense ministers’ meeting and called for more practical cooperation utilizing the “Shanghai Spirit.” “The SCO’s role has significantly grown since its establishment, and cooperation is developing successfully in various spheres. Collaboration in the field of defense and security is a major area of cooperation, and good results have been achieved within the SCO in this respect,” the Chinese defense minister suggested (Kabar, June 26).
Cao’s entourage included Lieutenant-General Zhang Qinsheng, commander of the Guangzhou Military Region; Lieutenant-General Wang Guosheng, commander of the Lanzhou Military Region; Major-General Qian Lihua, deputy director of the Foreign Affairs Office of the Ministry of Defense; Major-General Cao Yumin, deputy director of the Central Military Commission Office; and Chinese Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Zhang Yanhua.
The presence of the regional military commanders suggests that the Chinese were seeking support for their concerns over Turkistan separatists. However, the timing of renewed Chinese emphasis on the security role of the SCO also appears linked to Beijing’s need for regional cooperation to underpin and strengthen its security planning ahead of the 2008 Olympic games (Xinhua, June 27). In fact, given the recent formation of a new Chinese military-security unit tasked with counter-terrorist functions in connections with the Olympics and Beijing’s claim that it will provide security for the games at a fraction of the costs incurred by Greece in 2004, the Central Asian states may be poised for greater input from Chinese perspectives on successful counter-terrorist measures.