Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 85

A visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan to Moscow this past weekend gave an additional boost to the strategic partnership which binds Russia and China and set the stage for what could be a pivotal summit meeting between the presidents of the two countries this summer. This weekend’s Chinese-Russian talks came only two days before U.S. President George W. Bush’s speech yesterday setting out in broad terms U.S. missile defense plans. The juxtaposition of events, even if accidental, underscored the centrality of missile defense and arms control issues not only to relations between Beijing and Moscow, but also between Washington and each of those countries. Few specifics of the talks were made public, but Russian and Chinese sources did suggest that the two countries had finalized the text of a draft treaty on good-neighborly relations, friendship and cooperation which is to be the centerpiece of July’s summit talks between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Jiang Zemin. The July summit could go a long way toward determining the near-term shape of relations between Moscow, Beijing and Washington.

Aside from signing a protocol on the draft friendship treaty and speaking glowingly of Russian-Chinese bilateral relations more generally, the delegations at this weekend’s talks also appeared to agree on a preliminary schedule of diplomatic contacts for the remainder of the year which sources suggested will reflect an unparalleled intensity of interaction between top officials of the two countries. Those contacts will apparently include at least three meetings between Putin and Jiang, including one this June at a summit of the Shanghai Five group (which also includes Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan), a second–the July Russia-China summit meeting–to be held in Moscow, and a third to take place in October at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji is also scheduled to visit Russia later this year.

In a sign that neither Beijing nor Moscow wanted to publicly portray Washington as the target of their budding partnership, official sources provided little information this past weekend as to the content either of Tang’s talks in Moscow or of the soon-to-be signed Russian-Chinese friendship treaty. That both may been directed at the United States, however, was suggested by comments attributed to unnamed Chinese sources. These said that China and Russia had now come to see themselves as “the main roadblock in the way of Washington’s global policy of spreading its influence.” Chinese sources were also reported to have indicated that Beijing was seeking an “expansion in military cooperation” with Russia “prompted, among other things, by a U.S. decision to supply Taiwan with a big batch of weapons.” Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov appeared to confirm that last point when he said on Sunday that “military-technical cooperation” had been one of three main themes discussed in his meeting with Tang. The other two were trade and economic relations, as well as cultural and humanitarian cooperation (Financial Times, AFP, People’s Daily, April 30; Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, April 29).

The Chinese foreign minister did, however, rule out any immediate move to create a “Beijing-Moscow-New Delhi axis.” But Tang suggested that Beijing was not categorically opposed to the prospect of an alliance between the three Asian giants, saying that “the time for this has not yet come” and that movement in this direction could only come “gradually and step-by-step” (Times of India, May 1; Itar-Tass, April 29). The notion of a three-way partnership between China, India and Russia–one created with the object of counterbalancing the United States and NATO–was first voiced publicly by then Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov during a visit to New Delhi in December of 1998. Since that time there has been little indication of any substantive interest in the idea by the Chinese or Indian governments, but the notion has nevertheless surfaced intermittently alongside episodes of increased frustration with the United States in Russia and China.

This past week’s talks also provided evidence that a Russian-Chinese spy case is not likely to disturb broader bilateral relations between the two countries. The case involves the Russian scientist Valentin Danilov, who was arrested in February on suspicions of having sold details of Russian satellite technology to a Chinese concern (see the Monitor, April 23). That Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) intends to pursue the case aggressively was suggested on Sunday–the day of Tang’s talks with Russian leaders–when Russian authorities increased the charges against Danilov to high treason and fraud. The FSB’s case against Danilov, like the cases it has mounted against several other Russian defense experts, appears to be a weak one and will probably draw the attention and condemnations yet again of Russian and international human rights groups. But that is apparently of no concern to the Chinese government. When questioned about the case this past weekend Tang said categorically that it would “in no way influence normal Russia-Chinese cooperation, including in science and technology.” Indeed, the Chinese minister told reporters that he was unfamiliar with the case; that is the same response given by China’s ambassador to Russia earlier and appears to be another signal that Beijing does not intend to make waves about the arrest (AFP, Reuters, AP, Itar-Tass, April 29).