SHANGHAI, China—Leaders of Iran and Pakistan made unvarnished appeals Thursday to join a rising six-country bloc of Asian nations, where strongman rule is the norm, and China told the outside world to let the region's authoritarian leaders govern as they wish.
The one-day summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) produced a statement declaring that free flows of information may "trigger social instability." Debate broke out among the leaders of China, Russia and four Central Asian states over energy cooperation, rising narcotics trafficking and counterterrorism strategies.
Much of the focus, though, fell on leaders of nations who were invited to the summit as observers, not as full members, but who were allowed to speak. Several hailed what they said was the alliance's growing global clout and urged membership for their nations.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, facing global scrutiny for his nation's nuclear program, said the alliance should be broadened and deepened to protect the region from meddling by outside powers.
"It can turn the SCO into a strong and influential economic, political and trading institution at both regional and international levels and prevent the threats of domineering powers to use force and interfere in global affairs," Ahmadinejad said, speaking through an interpreter.
The Bush administration accuses Iran of seeking to make nuclear weapons and sponsoring terrorism. Iran is studying a U.S. and European proposal aimed at persuading it to stop enriching uranium. The proposal would forestall potential U.N. Security Council sanctions threatened by Washington and European capitals.
Both China and Russia wield veto power on the U.N. Security Council. Neighboring nations hope for full-fledged membership in the SCO alliance in order to fall under the umbrella of China's rising power and Russia's growing clout in the energy sector.
The strongest appeal for full membership came from Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf, who touted his Muslim nation as "suitably positioned" geographically to serve as an energy and trade corridor for alliance members.
"Pakistan provides a natural link between the SCO states to connect the Eurasian heartland with the Arabian Sea and South Asia," Musharraf said.
China has said no decision on new members is immediately pending.
President Hu Jintao, acting as summit host, said the region "is basically stable. But at the same time, extremism, terrorism and separatism—the three forces—are still quite rampant."
Indirectly alluding to Washington' efforts to promote democracy in China and Central Asia, Hu said outside forces should butt out of the region's political affairs.
"We hope the outside world will accept the social system and path to development independently chosen by our members and observers, and respect the domestic and foreign policy to SCO participants in line with their national conditions," Hu said.
For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that the alliance form an "energy club" but offered no details in public sessions. Russia and Kazakhstan hold major oil reserves.
At the summit's conclusion, the leaders issued a statement that said new information technologies offer "huge potentials" for development but noted that terrorists and criminals can use technology in destabilizing ways. It said the alliance would take collective steps to maintain a grip on information flows, presumably referring to the Internet.
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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