Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 154

A top Russian General Staff officer said yesterday that Russia and China had agreed to step up joint efforts in military-technical research and arms development work, as well as in the designing of certain weapons systems. Without providing details, Colonel General Valery Manilov suggested that the joint efforts were part of a new initiative aimed at equalizing military-technical cooperation between the two countries. (Itar-Tass, August 10) Beijing has until now been one of the world’s two major purchasers–along with India–of Russian military hardware. Chinese leaders have also sought, however, to acquire licenses and expertise for the manufacture of various Russian weapons systems in China. Manilov’s remarks suggest that Beijing may be about to get at least some of what it is hoping for.

According to Manilov, the impetus for the new joint Russian-Chinese arms development work came during five days of talks between delegations of General Staff members from the two countries that took place in China late last month. Manilov, the Russian General Staff first deputy chief, headed the Russian delegation during those talks. Although both sides applauded what they said were expanding defense ties between the two countries, there was little at the time to suggest that anything substantive or especially significant had come from the talks. (See the Monitor, July 28) Military-technical cooperation was also said to be on the agenda during a brief visit to China by Russian Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko on July 14.

It remains to be seen, however, whether Moscow is really interested in a more equitable relationship between the defense industries of the two countries. Despite political proclamations of a Russian-Chinese “strategic partnership,” some in Russia’s defense establishment continue to view China as a growing geopolitical rival to Russia, and are reluctant to share Russia’s more advanced military technology with the Chinese. Moscow and Beijing have, moreover, failed to substantiate their partnership pledge in another key area: bilateral trade. The two countries have set themselves the goal of reaching US$20 billion in bilateral trade by the year 2000. But commerce between Russia and China actually slumped in 1997, when bilateral trade amounted to just US$6.12 billion. That was 10 percent less than the level of trade one year earlier. (AP, July 14)