The member states of a security pact dominated by Russia and China pledged Monday to boost their financial and energy cooperation, despite the global economic slowdown.
The members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization praised their economies' "stability" and "attractiveness for investment" in a joint statement issued Monday in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The six-member bloc, which also includes four ex-Soviet nations of Central Asia, will create a joint development bank that will finance projects to improve transit potential and infrastructure, the statement said.
The pact is widely seen as a tool that China and Russia use to limit Western influence in the strategic, energy-rich region. It also provides a forum for China to display its rising diplomatic influence and economic might.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in televised remarks that the infrastructure development will "help realize the (organization's) colossal transit potential, strengthen its role as a link between Europe and the Asia Pacific region."
Russia will invest $500 million into a 750-kilometer electricity power transmission line from ex-Soviet Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Putin said.
The project, known as CASA-1000, will cost up to $2 billion to complete. It has been mothballed for years due to instability in Afghanistan.
"Considering the improvement of the situation there, we could renew the project," Putin said.
Analysts say China is using aid, diplomacy and investment to shove Russia aside in the region that Moscow still considers its backyard.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin's hand has been weakened after Russia lost its monopoly on distributing Central Asian natural gas and its major role in other energy sectors in the region.
China and Russia were bitter rivals in the communist camp during the Cold War, but ties have warmed considerably in recent years, partly from a mutual desire to counter U.S. influence in world affairs.
The group took its present form in 2001 with the initial goals of addressing religious extremism and border security in Central Asia, but has grown into a bloc aimed at challenging U.S. influence in the region.
The group's meetings also include the leaders of its dialogue partners and observer members, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Mongolia.
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