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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin, Jiang Discuss Islam in Asia

SHANGHAI, China — A five-nation Central Asian group led by China and Russia and aimed at combating Islamic militancy expanded Thursday with the admission of Uzbekistan, which is fighting one of the region's strongest Moslem rebel groups.

Leaders of the "Shanghai Five" said they had agreed to set up a new group to coordinate action against Moslem separatists.

Presidents Vladimir Putin and Jiang Zemin of China met to discuss closer ties and their shared opposition to a planned U.S. missile defense system, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Russia and China are united by unease over what they regard as American dominance of global affairs. Beijing is believed to be pushing the Shanghai Five as a regional counterbalance to Washington's influence.

Spokesman Zhu Bangzao said the group "has brought about a new security outlook" and will serve as a world model for "building up a new international political and economic order."

Other members are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, whose presidents all attended the Shanghai meeting. The group gives Moscow a structure to bind itself more closely to those republics, which shed its rule in the 1991 Soviet collapse.

In a joint statement Thursday, leaders of the group announced the admission of Uzbekistan, the most populous Central Asian nation, which sits on oil and natural gas that China hopes to use to fuel its economy.

Formed in Shanghai in 1996, the Shanghai Five initially focused on border tensions. But its agenda has grown to include economics, cross-border threats and joint efforts to combat the thriving drug trade in Central Asia.

Topping the agenda this week are talks on containing Islamic militancy, especially the threat of armed groups linking up across borders. Central Asian governments, including China, are grappling with separatist or rebel groups. Many receive arms and training from the Taliban, Afghanistan's Islamic rulers.

The leaders are expected to announce joint military exercises Friday. The group last year set up a joint anti-terrorism center in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.

"We will be in a position to fight those forces in a more effective manner and defend peace and tranquility in the region," Zhu said.

Russia, which is fighting Moslem guerrillas in Chechnya, wants a multinational effort against religious militancy. So does Uzbekistan, where rebels fighting for an independent Islamic state have made forays into neighboring countries.

China's communist leaders fear such fervor could spill over into its western region of Xinjiang, which borders several Central Asian republics including Afghanistan.

Uighur groups in Kazakhstan and elsewhere in the region are believed by Chinese and Western scholars to be supporting the separatists, helping them run drugs and buy arms. Chinese scholars believe Uighurs are receiving training in Afghanistan, along with Uzbek, Tajik and Kyrgyz militants.