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Chinese, Russian, Central Asian Leaders Meet in St. Petersburg - 2002-06-07

The leaders of Russia, China and four Central Asian nations met Friday in the northern Russian city of St. Petersburg and reaffirmed their commitment to cooperate in the fight against terrorism. The meeting also provided an opportunity for Russia to reassure China that its growing ties with the West do not imperil its friendship with Beijing.

In gilded palaces that once belonged to Russian czars, President Vladimir Putin played host to Chinese President Jiang Zemin and the leaders of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

After their talks Friday, the leaders signed the official charter of the group, which is known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The charter gives the group formal international legal status, and President Putin hailed it as an effective tool for closer cooperation.

Mr. Putin also announced that the group had decided to establish a joint body, to be headquartered in Kyrgyzstan, designed specifically to fight terrorism in their region. Mr. Putin described it as a serious contribution to the global war against terrorism.

First established in 1996, the Shanghai group was intended mainly to defuse tensions along the long common border between China and the other members. But, since September 11, the fight against terrorism has increasingly become a more important focus.

The forum also provided an opportunity for China and Russia to foster their bilateral ties and to present a counterweight to what both saw as American domination of world politics. One prime example of their cooperation was their joint opposition to U.S. plans to build a new national missile defense system.

But then came the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and President Putin quickly threw his full support behind the United States. From then on, Russia's opposition to the American missile defense plans became muted. Last month, Mr. Putin hosted U.S. President Bush for a three-day visit to Russia that was capped by the signing of a nuclear arms reduction treaty. That move seemed to strengthen ties even more between the two countries. Then, Russia signed a new partnership agreement with NATO.

All this reportedly rather surprised and unsettled the Chinese. So, the St. Petersburg summit was widely viewed as an opportunity for Mr. Putin to assure Mr. Jiang that Russia's burgeoning relationship with Washington and the West would not endanger its friendship with Beijing.