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Russia reaches out to India and China

Shanghai/Beijing, July 12: India, Russia and China will have the first-ever trilateral meeting between their heads of government next week in the backdrop of a proposal to curtail US hegemony by forming a quasi-military alliance with Iran and most oil-rich Central Asian nations.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet in St Petersburg on the sidelines of the “outreach” summit of the world’s eight leading industrial nations.

India and China are among countries invited to the “outreach” session of the July 16-17 G-8 summit, and Moscow has proposed the trilateral meeting to discuss the “positive” role the three countries can play to safeguard global peace.

The meeting comes a month after the proposal for the Central Asian military and energy alliance was advanced during the fifth annual meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Shanghai.

The leaders of the six-member SCO ' which includes China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan ' embraced a Chinese-led plan to increase military cooperation and discussed a Russian proposal to create a regional “energy club” that would exclude the US.

The SCO indicated it would soon invite Iran, India, Pakistan and Mongolia ' which have observer status in the organisation ' to become full members.

The SCO’s diplomatic embrace of Iran is yet another instance of how the grouping is thumbing its nose at Washington. Tehran’s membership of the SCO will give it a security guarantor against the US, said John Tkacik, a China expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

He said the move was an attempt by China and Russia to undermine the US in the strategically located Central Asia and the energy-rich region around the Caspian Sea.

The area has always been seen by Beijing, Moscow, Tehran and New Delhi as their backyard. But in the months after the September 11 attacks, Washington used the international alarm over terrorism to establish new military bases in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Washington has also used its clout to win major energy deals in the area. It created the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which allows western countries to have captive access to Caspian Sea energy reserves bypassing Russia and Iran. Now Russia, China, Iran, India and much of Central Asia would like US troops to leave the area, said Robert Karniol, Asia-Pacific editor of Jane’s Defence Weekly.

China and India, the world’s fastest-growing energy consumers, are also keen to divert Central Asia’s energy resources toward their own economies. Iran and Russia, the region’s largest energy suppliers, want to reduce their dependence on sales to the West.

SCO’s future, however, is uncertain. India is increasingly deepening ties with the US and Singh didn’t even attend the SCO summit, sending petroleum minister Murli Deora instead. Pakistan and Mongolia are also US allies and unlikely to get too cosy with China.

Chinese assistant foreign minister Cui Tiankai, who announced the trilateral meeting, said, “I believe they will talk about how to make the three countries play a positive and constructive role in the world to safeguard global peace and promote international cooperation.”

In the past, the foreign ministers of India, China and Russia have met on the sidelines of the UN and in Vladivostok, Russia, in June 2005. Cui said another meeting between the three foreign ministers would be held in India later this year.

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