April 26, 2006

China, Russia, C.Asian nations plan joint exercises

BEIJING (Reuters) - China, Russia and four formerly
Soviet-controlled Central Asian states will hold joint
anti-terrorism exercises in Russia next year, China's official
Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday.

The six nations of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization
(SCO) announced the drills in a communique issued after a
one-day meeting of their defense ministers in Beijing.

Xinhua gave no further details.

The SCO was founded in 2001 from a looser regional alliance
set up in 1996. It groups Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan
and Uzbekistan with regional giants China and Russia. Mongolia,
Pakistan, India and Iran are observer countries at SCO

For Beijing, the SCO has become a vehicle for bolstering
its increasingly prominent security and economic interests in
Central Asia while reassuring Moscow, the region's traditional

The SCO member nations, except Uzbekistan, staged their
first joint military drills in August 2003 in Kazakhstan and
China's far northwestern Xinjiang region, which were also
called "anti-terror" exercises at the time.

China and Russia held joint military exercises in the
eastern Chinese province of Shandong in August 2005, the only
time their two armies have cooperated on any significant scale
since the Korean War in the 1950s.

Those maneuvers -- officially aimed at quelling ethnic
conflicts and resisting any interference by a "third force," an
apparent reference to the United States -- were seen as a sign
that the SCO had begun to show some teeth after a low-key

The organization has a mandate to combat "terrorism" and
Islamic radicalism throughout the region, including opposition
groups that Central Asian countries treat as threats to their
often harsh control.

China feels threatened by terrorism in Xinjiang, home to
over 8 million Uighurs, a largely Islamic people who share
linguistic and cultural bonds with neighboring Central Asia.

Many Augurs resent the growing Han Chinese presence in
Xinjiang, as well as strict government controls on religious
and cultural life. Some Uighur groups have staged small-scale
attacks on Chinese officials, and a few were linked to the
radical Islamist Taliban in Afghanistan.

China has also courted Central Asian leaders through
bilateral contacts and offers of economic assistance to bolster
security in its backyard.

Last year, Beijing welcomed Uzbekistan President Islam
Karimov just two weeks after a crackdown against protests in
his country that independent observers say may have killed