Members of the U.S. Congress and European leaders fear that an economic and security group led by Russia and China will emerge as an anti-democratic rival to the West, but analysts warn against confrontation.
The two central players in this debate are the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a 56-member group that grew out of the Cold War, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a six-member group that is a product of the post-Soviet reality. China and Russia are the driving forces behind the SCO, which has four former Soviet states from Central Asia as the other members.
The four countries — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — also are members of the OSCE. Kazakhstan is aiming for the chairmanship of the European security group in 2009.
The SCO, which held a summit in China last month, invited Iran and India as observers, and offered Tehran full membership, raising suspicions in the West that the group was trying to expand its influence and grow as a counterweight to Western institutions such as the OSCE. Iran, part of what President Bush has called an axis of evil, is in a standoff with the West over its nuclear program. India increasingly is becoming a close ally of the United States and recently signed a landmark nuclear cooperation agreement with Washington.
Speaking at a Capitol Hill meeting in late June, OSCE Chairman Karel De Gucht said he has concerns about the SCO, which was formed in 2001.
“In our organization, all states adhere to common principles, which is the cornerstone of our vision of stability,” said Mr. De Gucht, who also is the Belgian foreign minister.
“[The SCO is] developing a philosophy on stability, but … the role of common principles — democratic principles, that’s what we’re talking about — to put it mildly, is not that big,” he said.
Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Helsinki Commission, described the SCO as “a collection of largely authoritarian and anti-democratic regimes with little tolerance for human rights.”
Although Mr. De Gucht said this wording was too harsh, he added, “I think there is a serious fear that in the minds of some participants, they see it as a competitive organization to the OSCE. I think it’s true.”
SCO member countries deny any anti-Western agenda.
A senior adviser in the Russian Embassy who asked that his name be withheld, said that he was disturbed by these comments and that Mr. Brownback’s view was “totally the wrong picture.”
“We are transparent and compete with no one. Do you see any threat here? Why all this talk about threats?” he said.
In Beijing, a Chinese government press statement quoted President Hu Jintao as saying the SCO “has always been an open organization that is not exclusive and targets no third party.”
Kyrgyz Embassy official Kainar Toktomushev said: “I do not see why our relations with the West should be damaged because we are a member of the SCO. The SCO respects democratic principles, and we want expanded ties with Western countries, especially America.”
Lionel Beehner, a researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations, said touting Iran as a potential member may be responsible for the growing concern in Congress about SCO.