A nine-day visit to Russia by China’s number two ranking leader, chairman of the National People’s Congress Li Peng, was notable for both the lack of press attention that it received in Russia and the West and the seeming dearth of significant results that it produced. The highlight of the visit was a ninety-minute meeting between Li and Putin that occurred on September 13, although the press reports that followed the talks contained little more than stale restatements of Russian-Chinese friendship. Putin did underscore the importance of a planned visit to Russia next year by Chinese President Jiang Zemin, and there were reports that the two sides intend on that occasion to sign a new treaty on friendship and cooperation. There was little elaboration as to what principles that new treaty will embody, however, and it was unclear how it would expand upon the “strategic partnership” agreement that the two countries signed under President Boris Yeltsin.
The Li-Putin talks also contained now-obligatory references to joint Russian-Chinese support for a “multipolar” world order, to cooperation between the two countries in international affairs, and to their mutual opposition to U.S. missile defense plans. According to a Kremlin aide, however, the main topic of discussion was the still anemic level of bilateral trade and economic interaction between Russia and China. But no new initiatives were announced, and there was nothing to suggest that the two countries were prepared to take practical steps to raise trade turnover from last year’s level of US$6 billion (Chinese-U.S. trade totaled more than US$60 billion in the same period) to the US$20 billion per annum that the two countries had aimed for under Yeltsin. The uneventfulness of Li’s visit left observers pondering exactly what the purpose of his long stay in Russia may actually have been.