Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 211

Russian and Chinese leaders reaffirmed their "strategic partnership" during talks yesterday in Beijing, but also emphasized that they are not considering a formal alliance and that ties between the two countries are not directed against any third power. The joint political declaration, which also proclaimed the resolution of all disputes on the eastern portion of the Russian-Chinese border, came at the conclusion of talks between Russian president Boris Yeltsin and Chinese head of state Jiang Zemin. It was the fifth summit between the two countries, the third meeting between Yeltsin and Jiang over the past 20 months, and Yeltsin’s third visit to China. Yeltsin received the red carpet treatment in Beijing, and the two leaders emphasized the intimacy of their personal ties (in pointed contrast to the cooler atmosphere that prevailed during Jiang’s recent talks with U.S. president Bill Clinton in Washington).

The declaration on the demarcation of the Chinese-Russian border was the highlight of the summit meeting, proclaiming as it did a close to centuries-long disputes along the 2,800 mile eastern border. The six-year demarcation is the result of a 1991 Sino-Soviet treaty. Regional leaders in the Russian Far East have charged that the demarcation has unfairly advantaged China, and their actions have been a point of some friction between Moscow and Beijing. At issue in particular have been several small islands located in the rivers that form the border between the two countries. Yesterday’s agreement apparently covers joint use of the disputed islands but does not resolve their status. The western border between Russia and China, a small 30-mile section that falls between Kazakhstan and Mongolia, is not covered by the border agreement.

The two sides also aimed during the summit meeting to boost flagging levels of bilateral trade. Moscow and Beijing had earlier set a goal of raising trade to some $20 billion by the year 2000, and the two sides reaffirmed that goal yesterday. But trade through the first 10 months of this year has reportedly fallen by 18 percent over the same period last year. Moreover, even though trade volume was up in 1996, at $6.8 billion, even that figure is insignificant in comparison to China’s trade with Japan and the U.S., which last year reached $60 billion and $43 billion, respectively. Russian first deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov blamed Beijing on the eve of the summit meeting for the trade woes, claiming that unfair Chinese trade rules keep out a wide variety of Russian exports. He also complained of the poor quality of Chinese exports.

The two sides did, however, sign a package of trade documents, one of which was a memorandum of understanding on the construction of a $12 billion natural gas pipeline from Siberia to China’s eastern seaboard. There were apparently no major military agreements signed during the summit, but a Chinese airline announced the purchase of five Russian M-171 helicopters. Yeltsin is to depart Beijing today for a visit to the Chinese city of Harbin, in Heilongjiang Province, which borders Siberia. (Reuter, November 9; Reuter, AP, Itar-Tass, Kyodo, Xinhua, November 10)

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