Asian and Central Asian States Meet in Shanghai

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The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, comprising China, Russia and Central Asian states, meets in Shanghai. The summit is bringing the city to a standstill. Russia's Vladimir Putin is expected, as well as the heads of state of all the central Asian nations.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Iran's president offered energy cooperation to China and Russia today, while calling for cooperation to bolster resistance against the U.S. He was speaking at the Fifth Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a body encompassing China, Russia, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

His presence has been causing concern about the Organization's growing anti-American slant, as NPR's Louisa Lim reports from Shanghai.

(Soundbite of foreign news broadcast)

Unidentified Man (Newscaster): (Speaking foreign language)

LOUISA LIM reporting:

This meeting is dominating China's news and being televised live, nationwide. Shanghai has come to a standstill for the summit, with schools and government offices being given an impromptu holiday. It's a sign of the importance China attaches to the summit.

President PERVEZ MUSHARRAF (Pakistan): Excellencies, SCO represents the hopes and aspirations of a quarter of humanity. It has the potential to emerge as a…

LIM: Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, an observer at the summit. But this year, another guest is upstaging the meeting: the leader of Iran, locked in a nuclear standoff with the West.

President MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD (Iran): (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: In his address, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for more cooperation against the threats of domineering powers and their aggressive interference in global affairs. He didn't mention the United States by name, but his target was clear. He also offered to boost energy cooperation. This move could ring alarm bells in Washington, which fears China and Russia are using the grouping to tie up central Asia's energy supplies.

Analyst Yu Bin, from Wittenberg University, says the Iranian president's attendance sends a clear message.

Professor YU BIN (Professor of Political Science, Wittenberg University): The very fact that he is here is a clear elevation of SCO's relationship with Iran, regardless whether it's going to be seen as anti-American.

LIM: Ralph Cossa, from Pacific Forum CSIS, characterizes the initial U.S. response to the grouping as mild disinterest.

Dr. RALPH COSSA (President, Pacific Forum CSIS): The Russians and the Chinese want to get together to tell the central Asians what to do. That's really not a big issue of ours, as long as it didn't impact our interests.

LIM: But everything changed last year when the SCO asked the U.S. to set a deadline for withdrawing its bases from central Asia.

Dr. COSSA: Certainly, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's statement about setting a date certain to leave central Asia was considered a direct threat to U.S. national security interest, that this is potentially inhibiting the war on terrorism.

LIM: Shortly afterwards, Uzbekistan evicted U.S. troops based there. Now, only one American base is left in central Asia, in Kyrgyzstan. However, Yu Bin, from Wittenberg University, says the Shanghai Cooperation Organization isn't overtly aimed at counterbalancing U.S. power in the region.

Prof. BIN: It's not the mission, at least official mission for Shanghai Cooperation to be anti-American organizational group.

(Soundbite of fireworks exploding)

LIM: As the organization celebrates it's fifth birthday with fireworks, some are wondering what its mission is. Its charter speaks of creating a new international, political, and economic order. Some are buying into that, with Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and Mongolia at this summit. And with the new geopolitical great game focusing on energy and security, this previously overlooked body could yet undermine U.S. interests in central Asia.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.

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