China says Shanghai security bloc could soon agree on free trade area


China hopes the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) security bloc will soon be able to set up a long-mooted free trade area, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Tuesday ahead of a summit of the grouping in Russia late next week.

China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan formed the grouping in 2001 to battle threats posed by radical religious organisations and drug trafficking from neighbouring Afghanistan. India and Pakistan joined this year.

The countries have discussed an SCO free trade area for years, but with little apparent progress.

“We believe that with the efforts of all SCO members, including new members India and Pakistan, the goal of establishing an SCO free trade zone will definitely be achieved before long,” Assistant Chinese Foreign Minister Li Huilai told reporters.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is attending a meeting of prime ministers of the grouping in Russia, during a trip from Nov 26 to Dec 2 when he will also attend a summit in Hungary of China and countries in central and eastern Europe.

Eastern European countries have been enthusastic adopters of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative, which aims to recreate the old Silk Road with massive infrastructure projects to connect China to Europe and beyond.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Chao said 13 of 16 Eastern European countries set to attend the summit had signed Belt and Road cooperation pacts and China planned to sign up the remaining three at the meeting.