Moscow: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao will meet on Monday to
discuss expanding their loose Central Asian security alliance
to include Pakistan and Iran.
Putin will host host Wen in his native city of Saint
Petersburg almost exactly 10 years after the two countries
joined forces with the four ex-Soviet Central Asian republics
to form the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
Russia has previously billed the alliance as a regional
alternative to NATO and discussed at past meetings the option
of including other regional powers in its ranks.
"We are talking about Pakistan and Iran, which have
applied for membership," Russian foreign ministry spokesman
Alexander Lukashevich told reporters ahead of the talks.
"India is also intent on joining, and Afghanistan has said
it wants to be an observer," the Russian spokesman said.
But analysts said China prefers to view the group as
primarily an economic organisation and note that Pakistan`s
membership has already been under discussion for five years.
Russia is also upset that the group still receives no
formal recognition from NATO.
"Of course, SCO expansion is not an easy process. It
requires careful analysis and assessment," the Russian foreign
ministry spokesman conceded.
The meeting between Wen and Putin will be their second
since the Russian Premier announced in September plans to next
year regain the Kremlin post he held in 2000-2008.
Bilateral relations are particularly important to Russia`s
attempts to find new Asian clients for its energy exports just
as European growth stalls.
A top Russian official said the meeting will note slowing
global growth`s impact on the price of commodities -- the bulk
of Russia`s exports -- and financial market stability.
"You should expect the prime minister to deliver an
assessment of economic affairs in the SCO region," Russia`s
SCO envoy Kirill Barsky told Interfax.
"By the way, it is distinguished by stability, good GDP
growth rates and improving investment attraction," the Russian