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    » 05/24/2012, 00.00

    CENTRAL ASIA - CHINA

    Shanghai group becoming new Silk Road

    Wang Zhicheng

    Afghanistan and Turkey are set to join the next meeting in June. Building a transnational transportation network and setting up a regional bank will top the agenda. The new SCO will compete with US plans for the Asia-Pacific region. Some urge greater co-operation among peoples and cultures in the region.

    Beijing (AsiaNews) - The Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) is set to approve a strategic plan to expand co-operation, not only in the security field but also in the economy, opening a new Silk Road that would unite Asia from Turkey to China, reaching as far as the Kamchatka Peninsula. The plan will be presented at SCO meeting in Beijing on 6-7 June.

    China's Deputy Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping laid down the plan's major points to journalists yesterday. "The international situation is going through some complex and deep changes, and factors of instability and uncertainty are increasing," Cheng said. "Member states are harbouring higher expectations for the role of the SOC." In fact, "The wish for greater growth of the SOC is also more urgent and more determined."

    The group, which was founded in 2001, includes China and Russia as well as four former Soviet republics: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

    Its initial goal was to enhance security co-operation and better fight terrorism (especially Islamic). Since then, it has become an area of economic exchange and assistance.

    India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan have obtained observer status. Belarus and Sri Lanka are dialogue partners. In June, Afghanistan will become an observer and Turkey will be a dialogue partner.

    The summit is expected to see progress in building a transnational transportation network and speeding up the process of setting up a regional bank.

    SCO will bring closer together the region's most dynamic economies (China and India) to countries with huge energy reserves (Russia, Iran and Kazakhstan), unifying an area going from the Mediterranean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, a new Silk Road, in other words.

    The Silk Road refers to a network of interlinking trade routes that ran from Lebanon and Syria through Iraq, Persia and Central Asia all the way to Xian.

    For thousands of years, caravans and traders followed these routes travelling between ancient Rome to imperial China. Scientific discoveries and religious beliefs moved along them as well.

    The Silk Road saw Christianity, Buddhism and Islam reach China. The compass as well as knowledge about geometry and astronomy travelled in the other direction.

    Eventually, new geographic discoveries and the opening of new maritime routes in the 15th century, as well as obstacles like the rise of the Ottoman Empire and the isolation of the Ming Empire, led to Silk Road's decline, replaced by a new sea-centred trading system dominated first by Great Britain, then the United States.

    The new element about June's meeting is the presence of two nations that are closely tied with the West, namely Turkey (a NATO member) and Afghanistan (still under US and international military control).

    SCO's widening and deepening (through closer economic co-operation) comes at a time when the United States is also trying to boost its presence in the Trans-Pacific region through a military-economic alliance with Asia-Pacific nations.

    Analysts already see China and the United States coming butting heads. Greater co-operation among countries that are so different could be another major hurdle.

    In SCO's case, "to make the relationship stronger, we also need an exchange of people and culture to enhance understanding," said Pan Zhiping, Central Asia expert at Xinjiang University.

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