Russia-China war games send message to US,00.html

Fred Attewill and agencies
Friday August 17, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

Russia and China today carried out joint war games after both had warned the US not to interfere in central Asia.

Some 6,000 troops and hundred of armoured vehicles and fighter jets took part in military manoeuvres in the Ural mountains watched by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao.

The two men, as well as the leaders of a clutch of former Soviet central Asian republics, had taken part in yesterday's regional summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

The meeting concluded with a thinly veiled warning to the US to keep away from the energy-rich and strategic region. It released a statement saying: "Stability and security in central Asia are best ensured primarily through efforts taken by the nations of the region on the basis of the existing regional associations."

Without mentioning the US directly, Mr Putin called for a "multipolar" world order. "Any attempts to solve global and regional problems unilaterally are hopeless," he said.

Mr Hu said: "The SCO nations have a clear understanding of the threats faced by the region and thus must ensure their security themselves."

The SCO, founded 11 years ago, focuses on border security and combating extremism in central Asia. As well as full members Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, in recent years Iran, India, Pakistan and Mongolia have signed up as observers.

Michael Hall, a central Asia expert, said the group was sending a calculated message to Washington. "There is a certain sense of wanting to let the US know that they're a force to be reckoned with," he told the New York Times.

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, took advantage of the platform to criticise US missile defence plans, which may involve stationing missile interceptors in Europe, as a threat to central Asia.

"These intentions go beyond just one country. They are of concern for much of the continent, Asia and SCO members," he said.

Moscow and Beijing have developed what they call a "strategic partnership" in the region.

Washington supports plans for pipelines that would carry the region's oil and gas to the west and bypass Russia, while Moscow has pushed strongly to control the export flows. China is eyeing the region to secure energy for its booming economy.

This week, the China National Petroleum Corporation announced Turkmenistan, which is not a member of the SOC, would aim to supply China with 30bn cubic metres of gas annually over 30 years.

In 2005 the SCO called for a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from two member countries, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The US left Uzbekistan later that year, but Kyrgyzstan still has a US base, which supports operations in nearby Afghanistan. Russia also has a military base Kyrgyzstan.