The six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) yesterday agreed to hold joint anti-terrorism military exercises next year in Russia as their defense ministers vowed to improve regional security.
The plan was announced in a joint communiqué issued after a one-day Defense Ministers' Meeting of the SCO, which groups China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The joint drills will be staged in the Volga-Ural military district of Russia, the country's Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told a press conference following the meeting.
He said the exercises were proposed by Russia and that troops from the six SCO member states would participate the first to involve all member countries.
The SCO countries, except Uzbekistan, held their first joint anti-terror military drills in August 2003, with the first phase in Kazakhstan and the second in China.
"The exact date, objectives and scale of the exercises will be determined by staff members and troop officers of the six countries," Ivanov told reporters, adding that the drills would involve the air forces, special forces and high-tech weapons.
The joint communiqué said an expert group would be set up to coordinate the preparation and implementation of the war games.
Russia's Itar-Tass news agency later quoted Ivanov as saying the exercises could simulate one member country being attacked by armed groups, with the other countries in the organization coming to its aid.
"The armed forces of SCO member states should, if needed, help neighboring nations block and possibly destroy large armed groups," Ivanov said, according to Itar-Tass. "The threat of SCO borders being crossed by armed groups is absolutely real."
Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan stressed that the planned military exercises are not aimed at any third country.
"We want to reiterate here that defense cooperation among SCO member states neither targets any other country or international organization nor hurts the interests of a third country," Cao said.
Echoing Cao's views, Ivanov said the SCO is not a political or military bloc that aims to confront other countries.
"We do not intend to form a military alliance, but we do share the will of safeguarding peace and stability in the region," he told the press conference.
Ivanov said the military drills are open and transparent and would help stabilize the situation and strengthen the rule of law in the Eurasian region.
Military cooperation within the SCO has been strengthened following the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States.
Last August, China and Russia staged joint military exercises dubbed "Peace Mission 2005" in Vladivostok of Russia and Qingdao of China.
At yesterday's press conference, Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Khairullaev also announced that his country plans to hold joint military drills with China in the latter half of this year.
The joint communiqué said the defense ministries of the SCO member states are willing to cooperate with other international organizations to fight against the forces of terrorism, secessionism and extremism and such transnational crimes as drug sales, arms smuggling and illegal immigration.
The next SCO defense ministers' meeting will be held in Kyrgyzstan next year, according to the document.
(China Daily April 27, 2006)