Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 116

Russia and China have combined to pressure the United Nations Disarmament Conference, the UN’s main disarmament body, to open immediate talks on how to prevent an arms race in outer space. The move, an apparent strategic partnership, is understood to be anti-Washington, due to known joint Russo-Chinese opposition to the planned U.S. National Missile Defense (NMD) program. After the recent failure of the 2005 Non-Proliferation Treaty talks in New York, China and Russia seem determined to isolate the United States in a different venue.

Russia and China urged the UN to re-launch the ad hoc Committee on Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space. The special committee was formed in 1985, but suspended talks in 1994. On June 9, Moscow and Beijing issued a working paper that says that China and Russia favor the negotiation, in the context of the Conference on Disarmament, of an international legal instrument prohibiting the deployment of weapons in outer space and the threat of force against outer space objects. The document offers tentative definitions of terms such as “space,” “space object,” and “space-based arms.” These definitions were sticking points in earlier discussions.

Leonid Skotnikov and Hu Shaodi, Russian and Chinese permanent representatives at the United Nations, delivered an appeal to the conference at its plenary session in Geneva. “We can only regret that the Disarmament Conference has not yet come to a compromise on its action program and has not resumed the activities of the special committee for the prevention of an arms race in space,” said Skotnikov. “Just as with previous Russo-Chinese documents, this is largely an invitation for creative team efforts,” Skotnikov said (RIA-Novosti, June 9). Meanwhile, the draft reportedly involves no ban on R&D or the deployment of anti-satellite weaponry, nor on the development of anti-missile defense systems or their space-based components.

“The recent developments concerning outer space are worrisome and require more urgent efforts to start work on preventing an arms race in outer space,” Hu Xiaodi told a session of the Conference on Disarmament. “We hope that this thematic non-paper will help people pay more attention and give more thoughts to the issue of prevention of an arms race in outer space and serve as food for thought for our negotiation of a relevant future legal instrument in the Disarmament Conference” (Xinhua, June 9).

“China and Russia stand for the negotiation, at the Disarmament Conference, of an international legal instrument prohibiting the deployment of weapons in outer space, and use of threat of force against outer space objects,” Hu continued. China did not, however, identify which worrisome developments need urgent talks.

Moscow’s and Beijing’s positions have recently converged on a variety of important international issues. Russia and China have repeatedly pledged to forge what they call a “strategic partnership.” They have also warned against U.S. unilateralism and opposed the NMD initiative. In July 2004, Russia and China held consultations on “strategic stability” in Beijing, including disarmament. Both sides reportedly agreed to hold “strategic stability” consultations on regular basis. Russia and China maintain regular top-level exchanges. Chinese President Hu Jintao is due to attend yet another Russo-Chinese summit in Moscow in late June (Itar-Tass, June 10).

The bilateral “strategic partnership” now increasingly seems to be firmly based upon growing economic ties. At an investment conference in St. Petersburg, Russian and Chinese companies signed seven agreements to invest a total of $1.5 billion in joint projects. Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Zeng Peiyan, who attended the conference, said China encourages its companies to invest more in Russia and would aim at bringing total Chinese investment in Russia to $12 billion by 2020 (RIA-Novosti, Xinhua, June 10).

Even the lack of clarity over the proposed Russian Pacific oil pipeline, a matter of competition between China and Japan, has failed to entail negative repercussions for Russo-Chinese ties. For instance, in May 2005 the Russian parliament ratified a final border agreement between Russia and China.

In terms of security ties, Russia is now preparing to hold unprecedented joint war games with China later in 2005. The exercise was first mentioned in a memorandum of understanding between the Deputy Chairman of the Chinese Central Military Commission Guo Boxiong and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in July 2004. China and Russia first revealed plans for joint military exercises in December 2004, when Ivanov visited China. The war games are expected to involve Russia’s strategic Tu-95MS bombers firing cruise missiles, presumably an exercise on how to overcome missile defense.

The latest joint Russo-Chinese disarmament initiative appears to signify further bilateral rapprochement. Yet it remains to be seen whether the move, as well as the bilateral “strategic partnership” in general, could produce more practical results for both Eurasian giants.