Russia and China yesterday reaffirmed their commitment both to a strategic partnership and to continuing improvements in their bilateral relations. Delegations from the two countries also signed eleven agreements, many aimed at boosting falling levels of bilateral trade. The documents included an agreement on economic and trade cooperation for this year, as well as deals on oil supplies for China, on the construction of oil and gas pipelines and on protecting intellectual property rights. There were an additional four agreements signed between various regions of Russia and China.
Yesterday’s signing ceremony followed talks between Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji and his Russian counterpart Yevgeny Primakov. Zhu, who is making his first visit to Russia since becoming premier last March, met earlier in the day with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. The Chinese leader is scheduled to meet today with Russian business leaders. He will then travel to St. Petersburg, where he will hold talks with Mayor Igor Yakovlev.
Yesterday, Yeltsin and Primakov joined Zhu in hailing the growing cooperation between the two countries. As they have in the past, they also portrayed the Russian-Chinese partnership as a significant factor in international affairs, and as a counterweight to the global influence of the United States (AP, Russian agencies, Xinhua, February 25). The Russian-Chinese diplomatic partnership has been particularly evident over the past few months in UN Security Council discussions on Iraq. Beijing and Moscow have successfully defied the United States on this issue, and, with France, have been instrumental in ensuring that UNSCOM plays no major role in any future arms monitoring system in Iraq.
Discussions yesterday, however, focused on the inability of Moscow and Beijing to back up their political declarations of partnership with more vigorous economic ties. Trade between the two countries has fallen off over the past several years, from US$7 billion in 1996 to US$5.5 billion last year. That is a far cry from US$20 billion in annual trade turnover which the two countries had pledged to strive for several years ago. These continuing problems led Zhu yesterday to describe trade and economic ties as the weak link in Russian-Chinese relations (AP, Russian agencies, Xinhua, February 25).
FOCUS BACK ON RUSSIAN MILITARY REFORM ISSUES.