BEIJING (AP) — China’s defense minister said Tuesday that fighting the threat of terrorism is a top concern to be discussed by a Beijing-led group of Central Asian states at a meeting this week that highlights Chinese ambitions to dominate the Asian security agenda.
Wei Fenghe told fellow defense officials from the eight-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Beijing that the group stood as a force for peace.
Foreign ministers from the group were also meeting in Beijing on Tuesday and a heads of state summit is planned for June in the Chinese port of Qingdao.
Chinese President Xi Jinping also plans to meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for an informal summit Friday and Saturday in the central city of Wuhan. Their two nations are rivals for Asian leadership and share a disputed and often tense Himalayan border.
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The focus on terrorism reflects China’s hopes to use the grouping to stamp out threats of cross-border support for low-level separatist insurgencies particularly in the predominantly Turkic-speaking region of Xinjiang.
Along with China and Russia, the SCO includes the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan as well as close Chinese ally Pakistan and its arch-rival India.
Cooperation among member nation defense ministries “has made important contributions to maintain peace in the region and the world,” Wei said.
Wei said the meeting would also discuss the South China Sea, where China has rapidly been consolidating its claim to virtually the entire strategic waterway through the construction of man-made island military bases.
China has encouraged Central Asian countries to play a bigger role in regional affairs as part of the SCO. Apart from stepping up security cooperation, China has funneled significant economic investment into Central Asia, a critical hub in President Xi Jinping’s Belt-and-Road infrastructure initiative connecting the Eurasian continent.
Beijing has also sought a bigger role in Afghanistan’s political future, pushing for settlement talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.