Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 20

This week the prime ministers of Russia and China reiterated their intention to cooperate in international affairs and high-level talks scheduled to take place in Moscow next month. As a forum for his remarks, Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov used a meeting in the Russian capital this week of the Russian-Chinese Committee for Friendship, Peace and Development. The committee, which is trying to promote bilateral relations between Russia and China, was established during a 1997 summit meeting between Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Primakov told participants that Moscow and Beijing are united in their opposition to “hegemonism, diktat and the use of force in international affairs” (Xinhua, Russian agencies, January 26). These are the usual formulations which Moscow and Beijing use to describe Washington’s post-Cold War diplomatic dominance and, particularly of late, real and threatened U.S. and NATO military action in Yugoslavia and Iraq. In an interview with Russian journalists in Beijing, Chinese Premier Zhu Ronghi spoke in similar terms. He said that “Chinese-Russian cooperation meets the interests not only of our countries, but is also of crucial importance in creating a new international political and economic order, securing peace, stability and development on the planet” (Itar-Tass, January 28). Zhu is scheduled to visit Moscow in February.

Russia and China have at times worked in tandem on the UN Security Council, but despite such instances and their declarations of a “strategic partnership,” they have had some trouble translating political statements into more tangible forms of cooperation. That has not been true of military-technical cooperation, where China has emerged as one of Russia’s two majors arms customers (India is the second). The two countries have also had considerable–albeit not complete–success in demarcating their long common border.

But efforts to boost bilateral trade–an area to which both countries have devoted a great deal of attention–have yielded few positive results. That failure was apparently the subject of much discussion during this week’s meetings in Moscow. Primakov, for example, complained that Russian enterprises sometimes encountered obstacles in their efforts to participate in major Chinese construction projects. He said that Russia was prepared to offer China “advanced technologies,” and suggested that the potential for increased Russian-Chinese trade lay especially in the areas of oil and gas pipelines, as well as in deliveries of Russian electrical power to China (Russian agencies, January 26).

Bilateral trade between Russia and China continued to shrink last year, reportedly falling by 6.8 percent from 1997. From January through October of last year, total trade turnover between the two countries was estimated at US$4.5 billion (Itar-Tass, November 20). That is a far cry from the US$20 billion which Moscow and Beijing set as a trade goal several years ago. It is even further short of the US$60 billion in trade which took place between China and the United States in the first nine months of 1998 (Washington Post, November 21).