China Faces Boost From Georgia War

APFrom right, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon, President Dmitry Medvedev and Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev visiting a Russian military base in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on Friday.
DUSHANBE, Tajikistan -- President Dmitry Medvedev has cast vague Central Asian support for Russia's actions in South Ossetia as a diplomatic victory. But a summit in the region held signs that China, already a powerful regional player, will benefit from concerns about an aggressive Russia.

As Moscow's combative rhetoric leaves it increasingly isolated, China may have tipped the balance of influence in Russia's backyard.

Russian peacekeepers ended Georgia's "barbaric aggression" according to "international legal standards," Medvedev said at a news conference Friday after a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

The group comprises China, Russia and four former Soviet republics in Central Asia, whose energy riches are coveted by Russia, China and the West.

The summit members issued a statement Thursday vaguely praising what it called Russia's efforts to ensure peace after its war with Georgia this month.

But they did not condemn Georgia -- as Russia had hoped -- and none of them backed Russia's decision to recognize breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russian media reported before the summit that Russia's efforts to insert wording condemning Georgia were thwarted by China.

The Chinese government is usually wary of supporting separatists in other countries, mindful of its own problems with Tibet and nationalists in the western territory of Xinjiang. It has also resisted being drawn into alliances that could damage its diplomatic standing.

"China has always stood in the middle and it has no intention of keeping the same company as Russia," said Alexei Malashenko, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

China's approach to courting its Central Asian partners has been low-key but assiduous and based on concrete proposals.

While Russia and the West attempt to persuade gas-rich states in the region of the appeal of their competing pipeline proposals, China has already begun construction of a transit route that is expected to carry up to 40 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year from Turkmenistan by 2009.

Several crumbling highways in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have been resurrected as a result of Chinese investment and technology. In stark contrast, Russian efforts to revive the vital Rogun hydropower plant project in electricity-starved Tajikistan have foundered in recent years.

Russia did secured some qualified support for its policy in the Caucasus.

"We all believe that Russia's actions were aimed at protecting the long-suffering residents of the South Ossetian capital," Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said.

Speaking to reporters in Dushanbe, Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offered a veiled defense of Russia's role in Georgia.

"These problems are in part caused by the interference of powers outside the region," he said. "The situation has also been caused by the mistaken behavior of some high-placed Georgian officials."

Nonetheless, most Shanghai Cooperation Organization members will remain circumspect about offering anything that could encourage secessionist impulses in their own countries. "Kyrgyzstan has territorial issues in the south with ethnic Uzbeks, and Kazakhstan are concerned with the ethnic-Russian dominated north," said independent political analyst Parviz Mullodzhanov. "While we in Tajikistan have our own Gorno-Badakshan autonomous region."