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Jiang, Putin Discuss American Dominance and Islamic Militancy

By Ching-Ching Ni
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- Chinese President Jiang Zemin met his Russian counterpart, Vladimir V. Putin, here Thursday to forge a stronger alliance against what they view as twin evils: Islamic militancy in Central Asia and American dominance around the world.

The vehicle for this ambitious agenda is the so-called Shanghai Five, a Central Asian organization formed five years ago to reduce tensions along the former Sino-Russian border. But as China emerges as a political and economic powerhouse, the group’s mandate is taking on a regional dimension, highlighting Beijing’s aspirations for greater influence in Asia.

To that end, the group is changing its name, to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. On Thursday, it added Uzbekistan to the original five-country collective, which includes the former Soviet states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. More nations, such as Pakistan, India and Mongolia, could join later.

With President Bush in Europe this week shopping his controversial missile defense system to his NATO allies, the Central Asian leaders here are expected to endorse China’s strong opposition to it.

China and Russia, former rivals for leadership in the Communist bloc, are now joined against a unipolar world driven by the American agenda. They share the claim that Bush’s missile plan interferes with the affairs of sovereign states and has the potential to trigger a new global arms race.

Chinese officials are touting the formation of the regional organization as a landmark event ushering in a new era of post-Cold War cooperation. But some U.S. experts say the union is symbolic and shaky due to past hostilities and thin common ground.

A more realistic goal for the group is the vow to crack down on the spread of Islamic militancy and separatist movements, many receiving arms and training from the Taliban, Afghanistan’s extremist Islamic rulers.

China is determined to prevent any radical influence from inflaming separatist tendencies already percolating among ethnic minorities in Xinjing, which borders several Central Asian republics, including Afghanistan. It is strategically important because, like the other politically unstable desert nations around it, the province sits on a wealth of resources, including oil and natural gas supplies critical to China’s economic development.

Other flash points in the region include the province of Chechnya for the Russians and the rebels fighting for an independent Islamic state in Uzbekistan.

The Shanghai summit is expected to set up a regional headquarters to coordinate action against Muslim separatists and approve joint military exercises. The group has already formed a joint anti-terrorism center in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.

Security for the Shanghai meeting was extra tight. Metal detectors were installed in most downtown hotels for the summit.

China sees each international gathering as an opportunity to champion its ability to host global events with grace, especially during this final stage of its bid to host the 2008 Olympics Games in Beijing. The International Olympics Committee’s decision is expected to be announced next month.