06/16/2009, 00.00
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China to help Central Asian nations get through tough times

Beijing plans to offer US$ 10 billion in aid. Hu is active at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit, currently underway. Military issues are on the discussion table, including US air base in Kyrgyzstan.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China is offering Central Asian nations US$ 10 billion to counter the global economic crisis. Chinese President Hu Jintao made the announcement in Yekaterinburg (Russia), site of the 9th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit. SCO includes China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Even though China’s president did not give any details about his country’s credit offer, the latter does give Beijing an opportunity to boost its regional role even in relation to Russia.

For the poorer SCO members, the offer is a lifesaver. The world-wide economic slump has hit them very hard; financial aid can go a long way to meet basic needs like food and essential services like roads, power and heating. However, Beijing is likely to demand greater access to the region’s abundant natural resources, especially oil, gas and minerals. The offer also casts a shadow over Moscow.

In fact summit participants seem more interested in bilateral talks than multilateral action. Yesterday President Hu held bilateral talks with leaders from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan.

For experts this trend highlights the fact that former Soviet Central Asia republics are seeking closer relations with China to counter Russia’s traditional regional supremacy

At the same time, whilst China like Russia and Central Asia had been badly hit by the crisis, it is coping better with its (and this despite its tens of millions of unemployed migrant workers). Beijing has in fact not stopped investing massively in developing energy and natural resources because it is still wants to build an economic counterweight to the United States.

In addition to the aforementioned members, Iran, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia have observer status in SCO.

Afghanistan and for the first time Sri Lanka and Belarus have sent envoys to the Yekaterinburg summit.

Defence and security issues were also discussed, especially the US Air Base in Manas (Kyrgyzstan), which is the only base the Americans still have in the region and which is strategically important for their operations in nearby Afghanistan

Under Russian pressures Kyrgyzstan a few months ago told the United States to close the base, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai has appealed to his Kyrgyz counterpart, Kurmanbek Bakiev, to reconsider the decision.

Russia has tried for some time to turn SCO into a NATO-like defensive military alliance.

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