Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 213

Diplomatic maneuvering among Asian-Pacific powers has continued at a frenetic pace over the past few days, as Russian president Boris Yeltsin followed summit talks in Beijing with a visit to the Chinese city of Harbin, while Chinese prime minister Li Peng and Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov headed separately to Tokyo for talks with Japanese leaders. U.S. deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott, meanwhile, was in Beijing on November 11 for talks with top Chinese Foreign Ministry officials that were aimed at least in part at gathering information on the November 9-11 Russian-Chinese summit meeting. Talbott later met with Primakov in Tokyo. (International Agencies, November 11-12)

All of these events follow Boris Yeltsin’s unprecedented November 1-2 meeting in Krasnoyarsk with Japanese prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, and Chinese president Jiang Zemin’s first state visit to the U.S., which concluded on November 2. In total, the flurry of diplomatic activity represents a first comprehensive effort by Asian-Pacific leaders to fashion a post-Cold War order that, by promoting the resolution of various long-standing bilateral differences, could also contribute to broader peace and stability in the region.

Cross-border trade was the main item on Boris Yeltsin’s agenda during his November 11 visit to Harbin. The capital of China’s Heilongjiang Province, the region shares a 2,000-mile frontier with Russia. Yeltsin highlighted increased border trade as a key to raising broader bilateral trade between Russia and China. He said that Russia would launch projects in nearby Amur and Chita oblasts — while also initiating flexible trade policies in the border areas there — in an effort to promote commerce along the frontier. Russian first deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, who accompanied Yeltsin, complained that cross-border trade now stands at only $1 billion annually, a figure that he said was "not enough."

In Tokyo, meanwhile, Japanese officials applauded the November 9-10 Russian-Chinese summit as a development that would bring peace and stability to the entire region. But diplomats in Tokyo were careful to turn aside suggestions that a Russian-Chinese border agreement, reached at the summit, might provide a model for resolving Japan’s own territorial dispute with Russia over ownership of the Kuril Islands. The Russian-Chinese agreement had called, among other things, for joint use of some disputed islands in the rivers that serve as a border between the two countries. But a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman emphasized that Japan’s territorial dispute with Russia is of a "different nature," and that it would therefore require a different sort of solution. Moscow has called a number of times for joint economic development of the Kuril Islands while urging that discussion of their status be postponed far into the future.

Russian Arms Exports: The Good and the Bad News.