Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 156

Russia and China restated their intention yesterday to work jointly toward countering the global influence of the United States and signaled that they will seek to make their already warm bilateral relations even friendlier. Those points were made clear yesterday during a meeting in Bishkek between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin. The Yeltsin-Jiang talks, described as a Russian-Chinese summit meeting by Russian officials, came during a larger Central Asian summit which also included the leaders of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.

The thinly veiled anti-American rhetoric voiced yesterday by Yeltsin and Jiang was nothing new. The Russian president described the Bishkek meeting as taking place under conditions of an aggravated international situation. In a clear reference to the United States and NATO, Yeltsin charged that “some nations are trying to build a world order convenient only for them” and are “ignoring that the world is multipolar.” Jiang spoke in similar terms, condemning what he called a “new display of hegemony relying on force,” one which he said has “already drawn concern on the international scene.” The two countries vigorously opposed NATO’s air war in Yugoslavia and continue to criticize U.S. and British air strikes in Iraq (Reuters, AP, UPI, Russian agencies, August 25). Their call for a “multipolar” world reflects a determination to weaken the global influence of the United States (and NATO), and to replace it with an international system in which influence is diffused among a number of regional powers–Russia and China among them.

Moscow and Beijing have long spoken in such terms, but their call for an end to U.S. “hegemony” has become more strident in the wake of NATO’s air war in the Balkans. Moscow has increasingly depicted NATO as a threat to Russian security, and a host of Russian political and military leaders have suggested that the Western alliance could one day turn its might on Russia–in defense of the Chechens or some other independence-seeking group–in much the same way that it did on Yugoslavia for its repression of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians. Beijing, likewise, professes to fear that NATO’s armed strength could be used to defend China’s restive Tibetan or Uigher populations, or even be employed to support moves for independence by Taiwan.

The mistaken NATO bombing of Beijing’s embassy in Belgrade during the Yugoslav air war and a recent upsurge in tensions between China and Taiwan have in this context pushed Beijing even closer to Russia. The same sentiments have been further reinforced by talk of a possible U.S.-Japanese theater missile defense system in Asia–one which might also be extended to protect South Korea and Taiwan. Both Moscow and Beijing have criticized the North Korean missile development efforts which have in part prompted the consultations on the Asian missile defense system. But Moscow at least has charged that the North Korean threat is being used only as a pretext to extend American military power in Asia (Itar-Tass, August 24). Russia and China, meanwhile, are also united in their desire both to limit U.S. influence in energy-rich Central Asia, and to oppose the rise of fundamentalist Islamic groups in the region.