These various motives underlay the remarks and the consultations of the Russian and Chinese delegations in Bishkek yesterday. The same motives and concerns were also reflected in talks which have been taking part this week in Beijing. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov has been in China for discussions aimed at boosting general bilateral trade and–perhaps more important now–at expanding bilateral military-technical cooperation. China is already a major purchaser of Russian military technology, and reports of Klebanov’s visit suggest that some new deals may be in the making (Itar-Tass, August 24). Klebanov oversees Russian defense production (indeed, he appears to be spearheading an overhaul of the country’s defense production and procurement system) and is scheduled to conclude his visit on August 28 following talks with Jiang.
The start of Klebanov’s visit to Beijing was paralleled by an appearance in the Chinese capital by Grigory Berdennikov, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s department on security and disarmament. Berdennikov headed the Russian delegation during a contentious session of arms control talks in Moscow earlier this month (see the Monitor, August 23), and departed for China soon after those consultations. In Beijing he repeated Russian criticisms both of U.S. plans to deploy a national missile system and of the U.S.-Japanese talks on a theater wide system in Asia. He suggested that Beijing and Moscow see eye-to-eye on both issues, and said that the two sides had discussed further cooperation on them. Berdennikov admitted, however, that the discussions had not extended to any concrete military planning aimed at countering U.S. missile defense plans (Itar-Tass, August 24).
That, in fact, is the rub. Recent reports suggest that the Russian military leadership, which had long approached Russo-Chinese cooperation cautiously, is now, in the wake of the Yugoslav conflict, solidly behind increased military-technical dealings with China. And that has reportedly led Moscow to offer ever more advanced military systems to Beijing (UPI, August 23-24). But the Chinese leadership has nevertheless continued to resist what appear to be Russian efforts to transform the Russo-Chinese “strategic partnership” into a more concrete form of military alliance. (Not surprisingly, Beijing has resisted parallel Russian efforts to build a Russian-Chinese-Indian axis as a counterweight to the United States and NATO.) Beijing’s reluctance appears to be based in part on its desire to remain an independent actor on the international stage. Because it has trade and economic dealings with the West which dwarf those engaged in by Russia, Beijing also has a clear economic incentive to balance its relations between Russia and the West.
Russia’s much improved–if still not perfect–ties with China, together with its continuing rocky relations with the United States, appear also to be playing a role in the Kremlin’s dealings with Japan. Although the inability of Tokyo and Moscow to resolve their long-standing differences over the disputed Kuril Islands clearly remains the main obstacle to fully normalized and friendly relations (see the Monitor, August 25), broader security issues appear to be an additional factor in Moscow’s calculations. This was evident during a meeting between the Russian and Japanese defense ministers earlier this month. On that occasion, the Russian side professed to be unswayed by Japanese assurances that Japanese-U.S. military cooperation is defensive and not directed against any third country (Kommersant daily, August 18). It was no surprise, therefore, that the issue of Japanese-U.S. defense cooperation was raised once again in a critical fashion during this weeks talks between Russia and China.
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