Russian President Vladimir Putin’s and Chinese President Jiang Zemin’s respective speeches at the Shanghai summit differed in their respective emphases. Putin underscored the significance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in terms of regional security, and also as a nucleus for a system with a wider geography. Jiang, for his part, focused on the SCO’s potential as an economic and trade group, without dwelling much on a hypothetical enlargement. Their main common ground is on the global rather than the regional level. Both presidents implied in their speeches that they expect the SCO to enhance cooperation between Moscow and Beijing on a bilateral basis, on issues that bypass the Central Asian countries. The upcoming Putin-Jiang meeting in Russia was a major topic of discussion at the SCO summit. Both presidents undoubtedly find the SCO useful also as stage for presenting a united front vis-a-vis the United States.
Beyond that, Beijing has a distinct interest in obtaining oil and gas supplies from Central Asia to meet a fast-growing domestic demand. Kazakhstan forms the focus of that Chinese interest. Beijing’s major oil venture in Kazakhstan is faring poorly, however. China’s state-owned National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) has owned since 1996 a 60-percent stake in Kazakhstan’s rich onshore oil and gas field Aktobenmunaigaz, and has all along planned to lay a pipeline from that western Kazakhstani field to western China. The US$4 billion project is clearly beyond China’s current means. Field development is underfinanced, production is trailing behind schedule, Kazakh workforce has been massively laid off and financing for the 4,000-kilometer pipeline is not in sight. Meanwhile, and into the foreseeable future, Europe’s markets are clearly more attractive than China’s for producers in Central Asia (Habar Television, June 17; The Wall Street Journal Asia, June 14).
At the Shanghai summit and in its wake, Kazakhstan evidenced some displeasure over Uzbekistan’s accession to the group. The officially inspired, postsummit report on Kazakh state television obliquely questioned President Islam Karimov’s sincerity in upgrading Uzbekistan’s status to that of a full member. Kazakhstan, like other Central Asian countries, resents Uzbekistan’s perceived ambitions for regional leadership, but is the only country that pulls enough weight to express, however cautiously, its displeasure. At the same time, President Nursultan Nazarbaev took the same position as Uzbekistan on Afghanistan: He blamed its destabilizing potential on the war and turmoil, not on the Taliban authorities as such.
Kyrgyzstan, characteristically, wants to use the Shanghai Cooperation Organization for balancing Russia’s and China’s influence against each other. An authentic practitioner of “multipolar” diplomacy, Kyrgyzstan is interested in maximizing the number of outside actors in Central Asia. It lobbied for hosting the SCO Antiterrorism Center in Bishkek, so as to ensuring a Chinese presence alongside the Russian-dominated CIS Antiterrorism Center there. With Beijing’s support, Bishkek was chosen over Dushanbe. The Kyrgyz tried in vain to bring Pakistan into the SCO as an observer, against Russian and Tajik opposition (Kabar, June 11, 15, 18; Itar-Tass, June 15).
The government in Dushanbe expects the SCO to restrain Uzbekistan politically and to channel economic assistance to Tajikistan. At the Shanghai summit, the Tajiks asked for assistance in the development of fuel and water resources, and seconded the Russians in taking the hardest line against the Taliban authorities of Afghanistan. The participants condemned drug trafficking in the strongest terms, but passed over in silence the fact that Tajikistan has become the main transit corridor for heroin to Central Asia and on to Russia (Asia-Plus, June 16; see the Monitor, January 23, 31, February 9, March 12, June 13; Fortnight in Review, March 16).
Uzbekistan did, in the summit’s wake, evidence the misgivings that Kazakhstan imputed to it. In a televised news conference, videotaped on his flight home from Beijing, a testy President Islam Karimov made the following points. First, while “the most powerful country in the region… Uzbekistan needs the two powers [Russia and China] for support against all those opposing Uzbekistan.” Second, Uzbekistan will quit the SCO if it becomes a military alliance, just as it has quit the CIS Collective Security Treaty. Third, Uzbekistan will refuse to oppose NATO’s enlargement, will not endorse “Russia’s specific views” on international issues in general, and “will not vote against a particular group of countries” or otherwise “join in such games.” And, fourth, any antiterrorism assistance to Uzbekistan can only come “with strings attached;” consequently, “we need to rely on our own strength… building armed forces modeled on those of the United States and European countries” (Uzbek Television, June 15-16).
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