A top Chinese official on Wednesday ruled out any decision being taken on granting membership status to India and Pakistan when heads of state from the six-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meet here on June 6, stressing that “no time table should be set” on expanding the security grouping.
Vice Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping told reporters that it was the common view of the organisation that SCO observers India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia, who have been pushing for membership status for more than three years, still needed to do more in the way of preparatory work while the members – China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – would keep “an open attitude”.
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari will attend the SCO Beijing Summit on June 6 and 7, Mr. Cheng said.
“We welcome relevant countries to become members of the SCO,” he said.
“The relevant countries should work hard towards political, legal and technical preparations for [membership]. The relevant work is going on about expansion of membership. The decision should be made through consensus and consultation, and no timetable should be set. That is to say, when the conditions are ripe, the decision should be made through consensus.”
Afghanistan is expected to join the SCO as an observer at the Beijing summit while Turkey is set to be granted status as a dialogue partner.
The June summit, which is the twelfth meeting of SCO heads of state and the third to be held in China, will mark the first instance since 2005 when the grouping has admitted a new observer. Sri Lanka and Belarus were taken in as dialogue partners in 2010.
The situation in Afghanistan and the Iranian nuclear issue are likely to top the summit’s agenda. Presidents Hamid Karzai and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are expected to attend the June summit and also hold talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines.
A greater role for the SCO’s members in Afghanistan in the aftermath of NATO agreeing plans earlier this week to transfer combat operations to Afghan security force by mid-2013 will be in the spotlight.
“Afghanistan has a special geographical position,” Mr. Cheng said. “It is close to SCO members geographically and the Afghan issue has remained unresolved for a long time. And that has had a serious impact on the regional situation.”
“The SCO,” he added, “has kept close cooperation with Afghanistan on the issue. We support the Afghan people administering Afghanistan and national reconciliation. We have also provided economic assistance through multilateral and bilateral channels. In time to come, we will cooperate with the UN as we always do and we will continue to play a more positive role in this process.”
Mr. Cheng was careful to stress that the SCO’s role could not be compared to that played by NATO, pointing out that as “it has no military functions, it cannot be compared to NATO.”
A small group meeting of member states will be held in Beijing on June 6, while a larger meeting, a business summit and a signing ceremony will be held on June 7.
Mr. Cheng said the Beijing Summit’s focus would reflect the group’s evolution from an initial security focus on combating the “three forces” of separatism, extremism and terrorism to “working to build a new type of state to state relations and a more just and equitable international order.”
Reflecting its broadening agenda, the group is expected to put out a political statement which will stress its opposition to increasing Western pressure on Iran, which is an SCO observer.
“We believe the Iranian nuclear issue should be resolved through peaceful negotiations,” Mr. Cheng said, reiterating China’s opposition to demands from the U.S. for new sanctions. “We are against using bilateral sanctions to damage other countries’ normal trade relations with Iran."
The summit will also discuss boosting counterterrorism cooperation, which has been the security grouping’s primary focus since its founding in 2001. The heads of member states will adopt a cooperation programme for 2012-14 to tackle terrorism, and would announce specific plans “to effectively curb activities of the three forces”, Mr. Cheng said.
Asked about interest expressed by observers, including India, to be more closely involved in counterterrorism exercises, Mr. Cheng said “SCO member states have realised the need to increase cooperation to fight terrorism” to respond to the “complex international situation” on account of events in West Asia and North Africa.
On the economic front, an inter-governmental agreement on road transport will be signed while discussions on establishing an SCO project financing safeguard mechanism and a regional development bank will continue, Mr. Cheng said.