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China, Russia,  4 Central Asian Nations Meet to Forge Closer Links - 2003-09-23

Prime Ministers of China, Russia, and four nations of central Asia are agreeing to closer security and economic ties. Ministers gathered to plan the development of a regional security grouping known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

The signing of several cooperation agreements was hailed as a coming of age for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which has existed as a loosely knit grouping.

The agreements are designed to make the alliance, which will be headquartered in the Chinese capital, more formal.

The Prime Ministers of China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan signed agreements to establish closer security cooperation and commercial ties. They later met with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Speaking after a meeting in Beijing, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said an outline has been set for the group's new structure.

The Chinese Prime Minister says the agreements show the organization has entered a stage of overall development.

The group first came together in 1996 and was known as the Shanghai Five. Uzbekistan joined the original member nations in 2001, and the group changed its name to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

The original purpose was to settle China's border disputes with nations of the former Soviet Union. The focus later shifted to battling terrorism.

Agreements signed Tuesday included one to establish the group's anti-terrorism office in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov says the accords could revitalize trade in the region.

Mr. Kasyanov says that apart from the political cooperation of recent years, the group now agrees to multi-lateral economic cooperation that will give new momentum to trade. China is leading the group's organization, in what analysts say is a sign of Beijing's ambitions to assert regional power. The analysts add that China may be trying to counterbalance U.S. power in Central Asia in the wake of the Cold War, especially since the war on terrorism began.