Ahead of a one-day meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) at the level of Prime Ministers in St. Petersburg on Monday, Russia and China have created intrigue with their nuanced comments on the meeting’s agenda.
An official spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the Prime Ministers of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan will discuss SCO expansion, and more specifically, plans to extend full membership to India and Pakistan, grant observer status to Afghanistan and affiliate Turkey as a SCO dialogue partner.
However, China’s Vice-Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping, who briefed journalists on Premier Wen Jiabao’s trip to St. Petersburg to attend the SCO meeting, failed to mention the SCO expansion as part of the meeting’s agenda. Instead, he spoke vaguely about “planning for the development of the organisation for the next phase.”
Taking the cue from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Xinhua news agency said nothing of the group’s proposed expansion in its Moscow-datelined report on Sunday on the coming SCO meeting. The subject was conspicuously absent from the “three proposals” for the further development of the SCO that the Chinese Ambassador to Russia made in an interview for the Xinhua story.
Earlier Moscow and Beijing both said that the SCO expansion was discussed during their foreign ministry consultations that took place in Moscow on October 31. But again, there were nuanced differences in the Russian and Chinese official announcements.
“The sides called for accelerating the SCO enlargement in keeping with the decisions of the Council of the SCO Heads of State in Astana in June,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on the consultations between Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin and his Chinese counterpart Cheng Guoping.
The statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry said nothing about speeding up the expansion process, saying only that the two sides agreed “to step up legal and technical preparations for the organisation's membership expansion.”
“We share very close positions with China and are actively pushing the idea of SCO expansion, as the Borodavkin-Cheng consultations demonstrated,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich. “I’d like to emphasize that we jointly with China advocate accelerating the organisation’s expansion.”