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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 15:06 GMT
Shanghai six face new realities
Foreign ministers of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation
The ministers found common ground, said Russia
By BBC Eurasia analyst Steven Eke

The foreign ministers of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation have met in Beijing to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, the fight against international terrorism, religious extremism and separatism.

The loose alliance comprises Russia, China, and the Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

They faced a new factor in the region: the presence of the US military - something Moscow only three months ago described as "theoretically impossible" - as part of Washington's war against terror in Afghanistan.

The one-day meeting ended with a positive assessment of the discussions from Russia's Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, who spoke of "unity of positions" amongst the six members.

China-Russia angle

There is certainly a common perception of internal dangers.

Both Russia and China reject outside criticism of their ruthless campaigns to suppress separatism by force - Russia in Chechnya, China in the Muslim western province of Xinjiang.

Beyond that, these countries have been co-operating for five years in variously named structures and unity has often been evident in declarations only.

Russia's influence in Central Asia varies dramatically from country to country.

Real antagonisms persist between some neighbouring countries, such as Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

And despite drastically improved relations with the Chinese leadership, Moscow remains suspicious about China's interests in Central Asia.

New reality

The close co-operation of the US military with Central Asia's governments over Afghanistan poses new challenges to Russia and China.

The organisation's meetings have previously been characterised by strong anti-American rhetoric.

But taking account of this new reality, the meeting's final communique did not include the traditional condemnation of the global dominance of the United States.

Instead, it called for the United Nations to lead diplomatic and military operations in Afghanistan and for the six countries to expedite the creation of their own specialist anti-terrorist structures.

The BBC's Catherine Davis
"In this region, autocratic rule is the norm"
See also:

14 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Shanghai group condemns attacks
15 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Shanghai plan to fight extremism
30 Apr 01 | Media reports
China's Islamic concerns
15 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Shanghai summit backs ABM Treaty
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