Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 140

Russian and Chinese leaders officially launched a “post-Yeltsin” era in bilateral relations yesterday, as President Vladimir Putin held summit talks in Beijing with his Chinese counterpart, President Jiang Zemin. For Putin, the visit was his first to the Chinese capital since being inaugurated president this past spring. He was accompanied by a large delegation which included a heavy complement of top officials from Russia’s defense and defense industrial complex. Among them were Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov (who oversees Russia’s defense industries), Aleksei Ogarev (head of the Russian state arms export company Rosvooruzhenie), Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov (who traveled to Beijing last weekend for talks preparatory to yesterday’s summit), Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov and economic adviser Andrei Illarionov. As befitted the importance which both countries attached to the event, Chinese leaders rolled out the red carpet for Putin at a welcoming ceremony on Tiananmen Square.

Observers were split on the significance of yesterday’s meeting. Some, echoing Jiang’s comment that Putin’s visit represented a “new stage” in ties between the two countries, saw the visit as evidence that Moscow and Beijing are now moving to further cement a bilateral relationship aimed at countering U.S. influence in Asia and around the globe. Others, without discounting the importance of ties between the two countries, suggested that the relationship nevertheless remains one more of rhetoric than of actual cooperation. This latest phase in Russian-Chinese relations began in 1996, when then President Boris Yeltsin made one of his eight visits to Beijing and the two sides first embarked on building the “strategic partnership” they now say defines their diplomatic relations. What impact Vladimir Putin’s election to the Russian presidency will have on relations remains unclear.

For those who believe that yesterday’s summit talks did indeed mark the beginning of a new and more productive era in Russian-Chinese relations, there were plenty of developments to cite as proof. Putin, for example, had said the day before his departure that Russia’s future lies in close ties with Beijing, and that “China really is our strategic partner.” He also spoke of boosting economic ties between the two countries and suggested that the relationship between China and Russia will become a “most important factor in maintaining global stability and peace” in this century. Echoing the section on Asia which appeared in Russia’s recently approved Foreign Policy Concept (see the Monitor, July 12), Putin also said that China stands in the “first rank” of Asian countries with which Russia wants to develop relations.

Rhetoric from the Chinese side was similarly effusive. During talks in Beijing on July 15 between Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov and his Chinese counterpart, Tang Jiaxuan, the Chinese foreign minister was quoted as saying that yesterday’s summit would have “an immeasurable influence on Sino-Russian coordination and cooperation in international affairs.” Jiang himself, following his more than three hours of talks with Putin yesterday, said that China and Russia would “completely cooperate in the areas of politics, economics, science and technology, military affairs and international affairs” (Reuters, AP, People’s Daily, July 16; Reuters, July 18).

The Russian and Chinese delegations backed up such rhetoric yesterday by signing five documents, two of which took aim at the United States. As had been expected, the key agreement to emerge from yesterday’s talks was a joint statement in which Moscow and Beijing denounced U.S. plans to deploy a limited national missile defense (NMD) system. The statement accused Washington thereby of seeking “unilateral military and security advantages that will pose the most grave, adverse consequences” to China, Russia and the United States itself. The statement also repeated Russian and Chinese warnings that the proposed U.S. NMD “will trigger an arms race and lead to an about-face in the positive trend which appeared in world politics after the end of the Cold War.”

In addition, Putin and Jiang issued a separate and more broadly written Sino-Russian declaration committing the two countries to working “together in the international arena to promote peace and stability in the world.” The declaration pledged that Russia and China would jointly defy “hegemonism, power politics and group politics”–thinly veiled references to alleged U.S. global dominance and to the actions of NATO, and particularly the alliance’s air campaign last year against Yugoslavia. Again echoing Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept, the declaration also promised to “nurture the role of the UN in conflict resolution and promote the development of a multipolar world.” Moscow has frequently (and vaguely) prescribed an enhanced role for the UN as an antidote for alleged U.S. unilateralism (AP, Reuters, South China Morning Post, Xinhua, Russian Public TV, July 18).

In yesterday’s joint statement Moscow and Beijing also focused special attention on Taiwan and on still preliminary plans for the United States and Japan to deploy a theater missile defense system in Asia. The statement asserted that the “incorporation of Taiwan into any foreign missile defense system is unacceptable and will seriously undermine regional stability.” It represented an official endorsement by Russia for Chinese opposition to the proposed Asian theater defense system. Moscow also offered a parallel endorsement yesterday of Beijing’s claims for sovereignty over Taiwan. The statement further asserted that “Russia will not support any form of Taiwan independence,” and that it will also refuse to sell armaments to Taiwan (Reuters, Xinhua, July 18).

In addition to the joint statement and the Sino-Russian declaration, the two sides also signed a banking accord and intergovernmental agreements on joint energy development and on the construction of a fast-neutron experimental reactor. That last agreement, which explains the presence of Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov on the Russian delegation, involves a 60-megawatt reactor to be built near Beijing. The agreement reportedly stipulates that Russia’s consulting role in the project will increase. The facility has already been under development by China for several years (UPI, July 18).