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China and Russia strengthen ties at Beijing summit

14 October 2009

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Leaders from the world's most influential energy-rich nations are meeting in Beijing for Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) talks. The SCO regional bloc includes China and Russia as well as former-Soviet Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. According to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, a strengthening of ties between member-states was the only way to ‘create a glorious future of peace and prosperity for the region.' A document signed at the meeting outlined the group's intentions to jointly address the global financial crisis through a common strategy. No mention was made of regional flashpoints like Afghanistan and looming regional security issues such as Iran's nuclear program, though Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is likely to meet Afghan, Iranian and Pakistani officials who are attending the SCO talks as observers.

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Ahead of the SCO summit, China and Russia signed $3.5bn worth of business deals aimed at strengthening energy, trade and military cooperation. The two countries signed a pact to notify one another of ballistic missile launch plans and pledged further cooperation in space, aviation, transportation, telecommunications and environmental protection.

The ToD verdict: The possibility of closer relations between China and Russia invariably sparks fears that an alliance could tip the geopolitical chessboard. SCO members possess 17.5 percent of the world's known oil reserves and nearly half of natural gas supplies. The success of the strategic partnership between China and Russia, the two core members of the SCO bloc, is vital to the stability and speed of global economic growth. According to analysts, ‘China is Russia's economic future'; China's energy needs are seen as crucial for diversifying Russian energy exports away from traditional markets in Europe. In recent years, China has purchased more defence-related mechanisms from Russia than all other Russian clients combined.

Ahead of the SCO talks, the Taliban urged members to help the movement to ‘liberate' Afghanistan from U.S. presence. It called on the regional bloc to take a decisive stand. Although no mention was made of the U.S. presence in the region, Putin urged members of the SCO to step up cooperation between law enforcement bodies to address the problem of drug-trafficking out of Afghanistan.

There is, however, little doubt that the alliance of circumstance between the Russia and China is an attempt to counteract growing U.S. influence in the region. Both countries have resisted pressure for more sanctions against Iran, with Russia remaining committed to further negotiations after a meeting in Geneva last month at which Iranian officials agreed to allow UN inspectors to visit nuclear enrichment sites. On Tuesday, following a meeting with the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian officials declared that threats and sanctions against Iran were in their view ‘counterproductive'.

In a bid to win Russia's support against Iran, Washington is reportedly toning down its criticism of Russia's human rights record and democratic deficit. The Russians have already welcomed President Obama's decision to scrap missile defence plans in central Europe. Moscow and Washington are seeking to set up a joint anti-missile defence mechanism though doubts remain on where the threats to their security come from.

Meanwhile, increased cooperation between China and the U.S. on the issue of North Korea's disarmament is proving successful. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Kurt Campbell, said there was a ‘virtually unprecedented acceptance of basic goals and ambitions associated with the six-party talks and negotiations with North Korea.' Washington is seeking greater coordination with Beijing on issues involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, Burma and Iran, as well as strengthened bilateral military-to-military contacts.

UN-backed Congo offensive a ‘humanitarian disaster'

United Nations peacekeepers have come under criticism for supporting a government military offensive against Hutu rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Congolese army launched its offensive in January in eastern DRC and has been provided with UN expertise and £3.8m in logistical support. According to a statement released by 84 local and international organisations, the offensive against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) has resulted in widespread killings and rape.

Although the consortium of NGOs accepted that the disarmament of FDLR rebels should remain top priority, they called on the international community to do more to protect civilians. The disarmament of 1,000 of an estimated 6,000 Hutu rebels has come at a high cost, with nearly 900,000 people displaced, 1,000 civilians dead and 7,000 women and girls raped. Satellite images show an estimated 6,000 villages have been burnt-down and abandoned.

Elsewhere, Congo and Angola agreed to end forced expulsions on Tuesday in what has been a tit-for-tat immigration dispute between the two neighbours. Angolan authorities are struggling to cope with more than 20,000 people expelled from Congo in recent days in retaliation for Angola's regular deportation of thousands of illegal Congolese diamond miners.

Britain commits 500 more troops to Afghanistan

Gordon Brown confirmed that Britain will deploy an extra 500 military personnel in Afghanistan. Speaking at the House of Commons, Brown said that troops would be properly equipped and that the reinforcement was subject to increased cooperation with other NATO countries.

The announcement comes a day after Japan declared that its refuelling mission in Afghanistan would come to an end in January 2010. The withdrawal of refuelling ships from the Indian Ocean is the first real sign of the new Japanese government's attempts to pursue a foreign policy with a greater degree of independence from U.S. influence. Japan has committed itself to offering non-military solutions in Afghanistan such as assistance with long-term reconstruction efforts.

Syria and Turkey to hold joint military exercises

Syrian and Turkish officials who met on Tuesday in order to quell years of tensions between the two neighbours have announced they will hold joint military exercises. Syria praised Turkey's recent cancellation of war games with Israel. Ankara claims the postponement is not political, though Israeli-Turkish relations have been strained after Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's criticism of Israel's three-week military offensive in the Gaza earlier this year. The two countries have collaborated closely on military matters and enjoy bilateral trade worth nearly $3 billion. On Tuesday, the U.S. state department objected to Turkey's last minute decision to exclude Israel from the exercise, describing the move as ‘inappropriate'.

China tries fourteen more over Xinjiang unrest

Two days after six men were sentenced to death, China is trying a further fourteen people accused of involvement in ethnic unrest in the western region of Xinjiang. The riots in July left nearly 200 people dead and were the worst ethnic unrest China has faced in decades. The defendants are charged with murder, robbery, arson and vandalism.

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