Chinese President Hu Jintao is in Uzbekistan, preparing for a security summit of the group known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. China is taking a lead role in this new group focusing on issues related to Central Asia.
Leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Russia, and Uzbekistan, will meet in the Uzbekistan capital, Tashkent, starting on Thursday to discuss terrorism, and increased economic and military cooperation along their common borders.
The organization headquartered in Beijing first came into being in June 2001 with the aim of resolving security issues that arose in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union 10 years earlier.
Before 2001, Beijing had largely stayed out of international politics, except to respond when criticized.
Professor Jingdong Yuan, a researcher at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in the United States, said Beijing's efforts to spearhead the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization marked a turning point for China, landing it a role as a leader in the Central Asia region. "This is a very important development for China, because the China of the early 90's was very suspicious [of] multilateral institutions," he explained.
Professor Yuan said it was increasing security threats posed by separatist groups in its largely Muslim west that prompted China to seek outside cooperation since 2001."China wants to use the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to coordinate policies and to exchange information to prevent any separatist elements operating in Central Asia in support of similar movements within China's territory, in particular in China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region," said the professor.
The United States maintains forces in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, and some analysts suggest one of the organization's implicit aims is to counterbalance U.S. influence in the region.
Critics charge the SCO has accomplished little since its inception, and they accuse China - the main financier of the group - of using the organization to push its political agenda. One of the few documents signed thus far is a communiqué in which member states agreed to regard Taiwan as a part of China.