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19 Jun, 2006

Shanghai Cooperation Pact Countries Signal No Attack On Iran

Although intra-regional tourism cooperation figures in the economic development plans outlined by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) following its summit last week, its real contribution to the cause of global travel & tourism will be to assuage widespread industry concerns about the possibility of an attack on Iran.

Official statements emerging from the summit sent a strong signal that the SCO member countries – China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — all want the Iran issue to be settled peacefully, patiently and legally, no matter how long it takes.

This will come as a huge relief to the travel & tourism industry which vividly recalls the 2003 war in Iraq, and the severe impact it had on global travel and exacerbation of East-West social and cultural tensions.

The SCO countries have indicated that they are unlikely to allow an attack on Iran, especially in view of the knock-on impact it would have on oil prices, the global economy, terrorism and, by extension, on travel & tourism.

Indeed, the communiqué released by the Shanghai summit contains much to reassure the travel & tourism industry that the preservation of global geopolitical security will no longer be a one-way street.

Noting that it “embodies the shared aspiration of the international community for realizing democracy in international relations,” the communiqué says that the “Shanghai Spirit” is “of critical importance to the international community’s pursuit of a new and non-confrontational model of international relations, a model that calls for discarding the Cold War mentality and transcending ideological differences.”

A commentary by the official Chinese news agency Xinhua said, “The proposed norm of international relations and global security architecture is based on the widely recognized principles of international law. It discards ‘double standards’ and demands respect of the diversity of civilization and models of development.”

With preparations for a spectacular Olympics Games in 2008 under way, the Chinese have also signalled an aversion to further global upheavals that could disrupt their own economic progress as well as that of the many developing countries now looking to it as a counterbalance to the industrialised West.

Xinhua quoted Zheng Bijian, President of China’s Reform and Opening-up Forum as saying that that history shows that to realize its dream, China needs a long process of peaceful development. “China cannot fully copy the western mode of development, nor can it revive feudal ideas. It must creatively inherit and enhance Chinese fine culture and tradition while absorbing the achievements of civilization.”

A peaceful rise enables China to project a civilized and respectable image to the world, he was quoted as saying. “The history of civilization has taught us that a truly great nation must be highly civilized and guided by a great culture.”

Many of these significant comments have been glossed over by the Western media which has sought primarily to see the SCO summit in the narrow-minded terms of a perceived “threat” to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Established in June 2001, the SCO member states take up 60 percent of Euroasia and a quarter of the world’s population. This year’s summit was also attended by leaders or senior ministers of its observer member states, Pakistan, India, Iran and Mongolia, as well as an observer from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

On the sidelines of the summit, Chinese President Hu Jintao met his Iranian counterpart Mahmud Ahmadinejad. A subsequent statement said that China “insists the Iranian nuclear issue should be settled properly through talks.”

While it is “critical” to build mutual trust between Iran and the international community, President Hu was quoted as saying that China also “understands Iran’s concern over its right to the peaceful use of nuclear power and upholds the international non-proliferation system.”

“The Chinese side is willing to maintain close communication with Iran and all other parties concerned and play a constructive role in seeking a proper solution,” Hu said. The Chinese foreign ministry also “called on parties concerned to show patience …. and said more time is needed for finding a peaceful solution,” according to Xinhua.

As all the SCO member countries are part of the famous “Silk Road”, the SCO plans will also see more future collaboration in culture, disaster relief, education, tourism and media.

These plans and projects will move forward after the secretariat is revamped. It has been based in Beijing for the last two years under Secretary General Zhang Deguang who will be replaced by Mr. Bolat K. Nurgaliyev from Kazakhstan from 2007 to 2009.

Immediately after the SCO summit, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao left last Saturday on official visits to Egypt, Ghana, the Republic of Congo, Angola, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.

The trade and economic boost set to follow this trip will have a major impact on boosting aviation contacts between Asia and Africa, significantly benefiting the upcoming Thai Airways flights to Johannesburg, due to start Oct 31 – a clear example of how China’s policies are set to benefit Asia at large.

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