The presidents of Russia, China and four Central Asian states gathered in the Kremlin on Thursday to discuss the nuts and bolts of making their Shanghai Cooperation Organization a functioning body capable of promoting stability and security in the region.
The six leaders spelled out how and when to form the budget of the SCO and man its structures, with the aim of turning the SCO, which was formed as a five-member group in 1996, into a viable international body by 2004, according to their joint declaration. Few details were given.
Starting from 2004, the SCO will have a secretariat in Beijing and a so-called Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, the declaration said. The leaders also approved the organization's emblem and flag.
China's ambassador to Russia, Zhang Deguang, was appointed the executive secretary of the organization, which also includes Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
The signing of the declaration was preceded by a formal sitting during which the six leaders took turns reading their addresses, which largely echoed one another in their determination to add meat to the SCO's bones so it could both promote cooperation between the members and help them jointly tackle such threats as terrorism, separatism, extremism and drug trafficking.
One sign of the SCO's transformation is a plan to hold joint anti-terrorism exercises later this year in Kazakhstan involving the armed forces of all six members.
In addition to discussing beefing up the SCO, the presidents also joined forces in calling for strengthening the role of the United Nations and a multi-polar world. The declaration they signed refers to the United Nations' "fundamental significance" and "important role," a thinly veiled criticism of the U.S.-led coalition's decision to wage war in Iraq without the explicit authorization of the UN Security Council and largely sideline the world body during the Iraqi crisis.
After reading their speeches, the six leaders then conversed behind closed doors for more than an hour before holding a press conference, during which they largely repeated what they had said earlier during the open part of their summit.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who presided over the summit, took the lead at the news conference in praising the progress of the SCO, declaring that "the first phase of formation is virtually completed."
China's Hu Jintao followed by first thanking "friends from the mass media for your great attention" to the SCO before focusing on the organization's achievements and prospects.
Unlike Hu's speeches earlier this week during the first part of his trip to Moscow, his address on Thursday did not include references to a multi-polar world and a need for the United Nations to play a central role in Iraq.
Hu left it to President Vladimir Putin to stress at the press conference that SCO members all agree there is no alternative to the United Nations as a "universal mechanism" and believe the "UN's efficiency should be increased."
As each of the six presidents addressed the international media crowd, speaking in a monotone and pausing for translation, the others looked sideways, occasionally exchanging smiles and fumbling with their pens. Uzbek President Islam Karimov -- who spoke last and whose country joined the Shanghai group's five original members in June 2001 -- was perhaps the only leader not to repeat the highlights of the summit speeches.
Instead, the stern-faced strongman of Central Asian politics chose to curtly but "fully support" what Putin had said before him about the need to promote economic, scientific and security cooperation across the SCO.
Karimov then vowed to make the next SCO summit in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent as hospitable for his colleagues as this Kremlin summit and press conference, during which the presidents took no questions.
By Simon Saradzhyan,
Moscow Times, May 31, 2003