Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 52

Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji said in Beijing yesterday that Russia and China have as yet not planned any joint measures in response to discussions between Japan and the United States over the possible deployment of a theater missile defense (TMD) system in Asia. Zhu reiterated that Moscow and Beijing are united in their opposition to the TMD system, but told reporters that “this does not mean that [we] have already discussed joint measures to counter this program. The time has not yet come for that.” Zhu added that he had not yet discussed the issue with Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov (Itar-Tass, March 15).

Zhu’s comments yesterday may have reflected a slight rebuff which China gave Russia. Although it was the Chinese Foreign Ministry which, on March 11, revealed that the two countries were consulting on the proposed Japanese-U.S. TMD system (see the Monitor, March 12), it is Russian officials who have suggested that those consultations might soon turn to joint action. That, at least, was the message conveyed yesterday by unnamed Russian General Staff sources, who said that Russia and China “want not only to coordinate their positions, but also, possibly, to work out certain countermeasures” (Russian agencies, March 15).

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin expressed a similar thought yesterday on winding up two days of talks with his Chinese counterparts in Beijing–which included discussions on the TMD issue. On the eve of his departure for Beijing, Karasin reportedly said that Russia and China wanted not only to share their concerns about the proposed Japanese-U.S. system, but also to work out a joint line and, possibly, “a coordinated position” on the issue (Russian agencies, March 12).

Zhu Rongji’s remarks appeared to reflect anew Beijing’s cautious attitude toward its more general “strategic partnership” with Moscow. While underscoring their willingness to work with Moscow on some key international issues, Chinese leaders have refused to share in the intimations by some Russian officials that the Chinese-Russian partnership constitutes any budding international counterweight to the United States and NATO. Beijing has likewise rebuffed Moscow’s suggestions–repeated in recent days by Karasin–that Russia, China and India might coordinate their actions toward the same end.

Karasin was quoted on March 14 as saying that he also intended to raise the issue of the Japanese-U.S. TMD system during a visit to North Korea which began yesterday. This will reportedly be the first time the two countries have discussed the issue. During his stay in Pyongyang, Karasin is also expected to discuss North Korea’s missile development program and to initial a new interstate treaty between the two countries. Karasin told reporters that Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov could visit North Korea later this spring in order to formally conclude the new treaty, which would replace a 1961 treaty of friendship between North Korea and the Soviet Union (Kyodo, March 14; Itar-Tass, March 15).

The Russian General Staff sources quoted above, meanwhile, warned that a U.S.-Japanese deployment of a missile defense system would compel other states in the Asia-Pacific region–including, in particular, Russia, China and North Korea–to take military countermeasures. Such action, they said, might include large increases in the number of both missiles and troops deployed in the region (Russian agencies, March 15).