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Senior Russian and Chinese generals have flown into Tajikistan ahead of joint military exercises, an alliance which analysts suggest could one day rival Nato.Of the five former Soviet Central Asian states, only isolationist Turkmenistan is not a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the group named after the city where it was set up in 2001.
China’s state newspaper, People’s Daily, reported that Chen Bingde, the highest ranked general in China had flown into Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, on June 5 after bilateral visits to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
The SCO militaries are due to play out a counter terrorism exercise in Tajiksitan between June 8 and 14, according to media reports.
Over the past few years China has strengthened its interests in Central Asia.
As well as playing a major role in the SCO, China has given cheap loans, developed infrastructure and become a major client for oil and gas.
On Wednesday on the eve of an SCO summit for heads of states in Beijing, Emmoli Rakhmon, Tajikistan’s president, signed more documents with Chinese officials. The new agreements secured both a £32 million loan to build a new road from the Chinese border through mountainous Tajikistan and copper exploration rights for China’s Zijin Mining group.
The SCO was designed to promote cooperation between its six members, although its military element has proved the most eye-catching. It has even hinted that when Nato withdraws from Afghanistan in 2014, it might slip into the void.
Many analysts have suggested that the SCO, with the combined manpower of the Russian, Chinese and Central Asian armies, now acts as a counterbalance to Nato.
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