Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 2

During a visit to Moscow rich in both practical and symbolic significance, Chinese prime minister Li Peng held talks with Russian president Boris Yeltsin on December 27. The meeting, Yeltsin’s first with a foreign leader since his heart surgery in November, marked a further advancement in the steadily improving relations between the two Asian giants. In practical terms, Li’s relatively brief stay in the Russian capital resulted in several agreements. One confirmed that Chinese president Jiang Zemin would visit Moscow in April for a summit meeting that is expected to raise bilateral relations to yet a higher level. Another established that the prime ministers of the two countries will henceforth meet twice a year in order to promote bilateral trade and to monitor broader diplomatic relations. A protocol setting out the principles of a contract on the construction by Russia of a nuclear power plant in the Chinese province of Jiangsu was signed, as was an accord between the central banks of the two countries. The two sides also reportedly signed several agreements aimed at giving a further boost to military-technical cooperation, including one involving the acquisition by China of additional Russian Su-27 warplanes. Details of that deal were not made public. (Western and Russian agencies, December 27-29)

But a joint Russian-Chinese communiqué on strategic cooperation into the next century better reflected the symbolic importance of Li’s visit. In that document the two sides described themselves as "important and independent poles in a multi-polar world" and emphasized that their partnership was necessary to avoid formation of a system of international relations "dominated by one power" — a clear reference to the U.S. (Rossiiskaya gazeta, December 28) From Moscow’s perspective, the strengthened partnership with China is clearly aimed at counter-balancing the plans of the U.S.-led NATO alliance to expand into Eastern and Central Europe.

China, not surprisingly, has also criticized NATO’s enlargement plans, observing on December 30, for example, that the "practice of reinforcing military alliances runs counter to the current tide of peace and development" and reflects confrontational "Cold War thinking." Despite historical animosities and latent border disagreements with Russia, China sees closer ties to Moscow as a means of countering U.S. influence in Asia, particularly in view of a recent strengthening of defense ties between the U.S. and Japan. (Reuter, December 30) But security considerations aside, Russia and China also see each other as markets of vast potential. In addition, China hopes to get from Russia a wide array of advanced technologies, including many with military applications, while Russia views China as a source of hard currency revenues, especially for its disintegrating industrial base.

Moscow Demands Apology over Melee Involving Diplomats.