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Shanghai spirit takes shape
( 2004-01-15 22:40) (China Daily)

The inauguration of the Shanghai Co-operation Organization secretariat yesterday in Beijing will help the six-member group more effectively tackle security and economic issues.

The three-storey lemon-yellow building looks slightly incongruous in the commercial hub of northeastern Beijing's Chaoyang District -- which is dominated by glass-and-steel five-star hotels, posh office buildings and shopping malls.

Foreign ministers and officials from China, Russian, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan applaud at the inauguration ceremony of the Shanghai Co-operation Organization Secretariat held January 15, 2004, in Beijing. [newsphoto]

But it is the nerve centre of the Shanghai Co-operation Organization (SCO) -- the secretariat of the six-member group, which comprises China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The setting-up of the secretariat signals that the group "has become a true international co-operation organization,'' says Xu Tao, deputy director of the Division for Eurasian Studies with the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

The SCO was founded in June 2001, when Uzbekistan joined the then "Shanghai Five'' which have been meeting annually since 1996.

"Effective security partnership has always been the cohesive element for their co-operative mechanism,'' says Xu in an interview with China Daily.

But economic and trade issues will also be given importance.

Initially, the group was formed to build confidence along common borders and reduce the number of troops in the region.

From 1998, when the SCO summit was held in Almaty of Kazakhstan, the group shifted its emphasis on security collaboration from the traditional military field to non-traditional sectors, which target international terrorism, ethnic separatism and religious extremism in the Central Asian region.

US manoeuvres in Central Asia

After the September 11 terror attacks, the United States started to deploy military forces in the Central Asian areas; it gained a geopolitical advantage by overthrowing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and dealing a big blow to such religious extremists groups as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

However, the security situation in the region has been shadowed by unremitted terrorist attacks.

"It shows that the fight against terrorism is totally different from a traditional war,'' says Xu, noting that a war could overthrow a regime or even change a country, but could not completely eradicate terrorism.

Terrorism, separatism and extremism -- described as "three evil forces'' by the SCO -- have deep roots in the Central Asian areas, according to Xu.

"Military strikes can have a short-term effect, while only comprehensive measures including economic development and improvement of law enforcement would eradicate the evil roots,'' said Xu.

The Shanghai group has listed international terrorism, proliferation of weapons, drug trafficking and organized cross-border crimes as its targets.

It will this month set up a special regional anti-terrorism organization in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent to speed up efforts in this direction.

Joint military exercise

In August last year, all members except Uzbekistan jointly launched a large-scale joint military exercise to examine their abilities in cracking down on terrorism.

Su Hao, professor of China Foreign Affairs University, tells China Daily that the SCO is not a military alliance and it does not target any third country.

The group maintains regional security by seeking co-ordination and co-operation among all member countries and the so-called Shanghai Spirit is the guiding principle for SCO.

Such spirit is represented by mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect of different civilizations and pursuit of common development, according to SCO Secretary-General Zhang Deguang.

Professor Su says that the Shanghai group should not be treated only as a "security organization.''

From the long-term perspective, the group needs a "second track,'' which mainly covers economy and trade, says Su, who specializes in studying the security situation in the Asia-Pacific region.

To speed up economic development and restructure national industries of member countries is an important way of increasing cohesion of the group, he says.

After the collapse of the former Soviet Union, many countries in Central Asia have suffered from a worsening economic situation, which led to a drop in living standards and increasing unemployment.

The situation is one of major reasons for rampant extremism that threatens social stability, according to Xu Tao.

All member countries have put economic growth and improvement of people's lives on the working agenda.

"Good partnership among all members in the political and security fields has provided a wide platform for economic co-operation,'' says Xu.

China's rapid economic growth and the geographic contiguity with all group members are expected to bring economic vitality to the region, according to Xu.

The oil-rich region can also satisfy China's demand for oil, which is predicted to rise to 120 million tons by 2010, says Xu.

China's western development strategy, which was initiated by the central government to seek rapid economic growth as well as ecological improvement in the relatively-backward region, has also generated many opportunities for developing ties with SCO members.

"Backed by the large Eurasian market, the western region could develop such business as energy transportation, commodity distribution, cross-border tourism, information industry and even finance,'' he says.

"Under the present situation, only the Shanghai Co-operation Organization has the ability to co-ordinate activities of all member countries to push the process,'' Xu adds.

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