The Guardian 2 November, 2005

Co-operation among Asian and
Middle East countries grows stronger

The Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) which now includes countries with a combined population of more than three billion people held a meeting of heads of government in Moscow last week. From its original six members comprising China and Russia and four of the former republics of the Soviet Union the SCO has grown by the inclusion as observers of India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia. It covers the land mass stretching from the Middle East to the eastern border of China and the southern border of India.

In welcoming the heads of government to Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, "It is only natural that SCO decisions will influence the well-being of much of the world. It is an important factor of world politics."

He said that economic cooperation between SCO member states is assuming an increasing significance. At the same time, security issues and the fight against terrorism remain priority issues.

At the same time, India's External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh also visited Moscow to hold "wide- ranging talks" with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on all bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest.

The Indian Minister emphasised that India and Russia shared a "time-tested" friendship which has become a "strategic partnership". It has been further cemented by people-to-people contacts and "a myriad of cultural exchanges".

The Indian Minister saw many opportunities for cooperation with the SCO in the areas of trade, investment, finance, banking and transportation. An example of this is a large Indian investment in Sakhalin oil and gas fields in Russia's Far East.

The Indian Foreign Minister welcomed the construction of gas pipelines from Iran to Pakistan and India and from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India.

Mr Singh said India attached "great importance to the SCO" and by joining it, India signalled "our strong interest in cooperating with the SCO in its initiatives to enhance regional economic cooperation and combat terrorism".

While Indian-Russian trade is growing in a number of areas and political relations are getting warmer, China is working to extend its trade relations with ASEAN countries. China's President, Hu Jintao, told the visiting Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, who was paying his first visit to China, that China was a "good neighbour, friend and partner".

China's economy is compatible with the Singaporean economy so the mutually beneficial cooperation complies with the fundamental interests of the two countries Hu said.

The Foreign Ministers of India, Russia and China will meet in Delhi next March. It will be the second stand-alone meeting in the triangular format.

Another regional development of significance is a statement from Pakistan opposing the use of force to resolve Iran's nuclear issue and referring Iran to the UN Security Council. Pakistan's Prime Minister said: "We are convinced that Iran's nuclear problem should be settled through dialogue rather than by using force or trying to refer this issue to the UN". He said that "any state, including Iran, has the right to a peaceful use of nuclear energy. At the same time, any state, including Iran, should assume obligations concerning guarantees of non-proliferation of nuclear technology."

Reacting to the hullabaloo created in the Western media and among politicians over the alleged involvement of Syria in the assassination of Lebanon's Prime Minister last year, Russia, Cuba and the Arab League have opposed sanctions being imposed on Syria over the affair. "It is not logical nor legitimate to impose such sanctions on Syria by building on accusations that are not verified" said a statement of the Arab League.

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