MOSCOW, May 31 (AFP): Russia and China moved yesterday to fortify their growing security cooperation in Central Asia but reassured the United States that their new-found unity of purpose in the prized region was not designed to subvert US interests there.
Russian President Vladimir Putin however acknowledged growing "competition" to a new Central Asian security organisation led by Moscow and Beijing while Chinese President Hu Jintao said the new group had become an "important force" for peace and stability in the world.
In the first meeting of its kind, parliamentary leaders from the six countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) met Tuesday in Moscow to discuss ways to harmonise their laws and begin building a legislative dimension for the grouping.
The SCO parliamentary leaders, including U Bango, chairman of the standing committee of the Chinese legislature, held a meeting at the Kremlin with Putin, who said involvement of national legislatures in the organisation would "enrich the partnership" of its member states.
Led by China and Russia, the SCO, founded five years ago, also includes Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Other key countries in the region-India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan-currently have observer status and have also expressed interest in becoming full members.
The United States however is not a member and, according to sources, is growing increasingly uneasy at the direction and purpose of the organisation, which has been described by experts as the foundation of a new Eurasian counterweight to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
One source who asked not to named said the US embassy in Beijing earlier this month delivered a message to the SCO secretariat voicing concern that some members may regard the group as a vehicle for countering US influence in the region. This could not immediately be confirmed in Moscow.
In his meeting with the lawmakers, Putin said there was growing international interest in the SCO which he said "has become an important, influential regional organisation" in the five years since its founding.
He also cited efforts to counter this growing influence.
"We see in the international arena there are attempts to create competition to our organisation," Putin said.
"I think it would be right if we did not engage in this and instead continued with the positive, constructive work that we have been doing for the past several years."