Nations to discuss joining SCO

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The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will start negotiations with Pakistan, India and Iran for their full membership after a memorandum is expected to be passed at its summit in June, SCO Secretary-General Muratbek Sansyzbayevich Imanaliev said on Wednesday in Beijing.

He also confirmed Afghanistan's application for observer status, saying that it "is being studied and will be discussed at the upcoming summit".

The summit, to be held on June 15 in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, will pass a memorandum on the obligations of membership applicants, he said.

After the adoption of the memorandum, "we can start negotiations with the nations applying to join the SCO", he said.

The memorandum is about political and legal standards, such as how the applicants become signatory states of existing agreements within the SCO, and is "not intended to create barriers for possible new members", he added.

The SCO is an open organization as defined in its charter, he said, noting that it is willing to cooperate with "organizations and nations that hold the same opinions as us".

Founded in Shanghai in 2001, the SCO currently has six members - China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia have observer status.

Iran, Pakistan and India have applied to join the SCO as full members and that has been discussed within the organization, he said.

Sun Zhuangzhi, a senior researcher in Central Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told China Daily it is unlikely there will be much progress on the enlargement of the SCO at the upcoming summit, as the applicants have their own problems to resolve before fulfilling the membership requirements.

Peace has yet to be fully achieved in Afghanistan, while Iran remains under United Nations' sanctions, and the process for Pakistan and India to join is yet to be figured out, said Sun.

Commentator Yu Yongsheng said that with the higher profile of the SCO and after 10 years of development, "it's time for it to have more members".

The SCO "has become an important factor for security and stability in this region", said SCO Secretary-General Imanaliev.

The 10th anniversary SCO summit will approve an anti-drugs strategy for 2011 to 2016 to tackle this major threat to peace and prosperity in the region, said Imanaliev.

The SCO has been successful in its management of security issues - especially in non-traditional areas, such as drug trafficking.

However, economic cooperation has lagged behind political and anti-terrorism cooperation between SCO members, said Imanaliev.

The Astana summit will witness the signing of a cooperative agreement on healthcare and set out areas for increased economic cooperation, he said.

More economic cooperation programs are expected from the regular prime ministers' meeting within the SCO framework to be held in November in Moscow, he said.

He said that 10 years since its founding, the SCO is still a "young developing organization", but "10 years is enough to prove its efficiency".

The SCO is not a "military alliance" as portrayed by some Western observers, said the secretary-general.

The SCO is "an organization of nations with common goals and tasks, especially in guaranteeing their self-development and common security, including the areas of anti-terrorism and tackling international crime", he said.

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