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China Hosts Summit to Form Central Asia Cooperative Security Group - 2003-09-17

China is preparing to host the prime ministers of six nations that are working to develop a cooperative security group in Central Asia. Chinese officials hope the grouping will highlight China's emerging role as a Central Asia regional power.

The group was born in 1996. It consisted of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgstan, and Tajikistan, and was known as the Shanghai Five. Uzbekistan joined in 2001, and the group adopted its current name, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

It was originally founded to resolve China's border disputes with nations of the former Soviet Union. Its purpose has evolved, and has focused more recently on battling terrorist threats.

Until now, the SCO has existed as a loosely-organized grouping, but China wants to change that.

Li Hui, director of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Europe and Central Asia division, on Wednesday said the prime ministers will gather in Beijing next week to begin talking about setting up an organized structure.

Mr. Li said there will be two items on the agenda: the institutionalization of the group's structure, and a discussion on regional economic cooperation.

China, in addition to being a founding member, is the main financial contributor to the organization.

Analysts say Beijing's efforts to organize and lead the group are a sign of its ambition to become a key player in Central Asia. Some describe the group as a Chinese-led effort to counterbalance U.S. power in the region in the wake of the Cold War, and especially since the War on Terrorism began.

However, Chinese officials say the upcoming meeting will not include discussions on U.S. strategic interests in Central Asia, including ongoing operations in Afghanistan.

The meeting, which will be hosted by Chinese Prime Minster Wen Jiabao, is scheduled to begin on September 23.