During the first of a five-day visit to China, Russian defense minister Igor Rodionov said on April 14 that friendly relations with Beijing fit into Russia’s "long-term strategic course" and that the "strategic partnership [between Russia and China] is extremely important for the consolidation of peace and security on the entire planet." Russian-Chinese cooperation "will inevitably become a major factor in the formation of a new multipolar political and economic order," Rodionov declared. Following a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Chi Haotian, Rodionov also said that the two sides had reached "full understanding" and had agreed to foster "strategic interaction" in the next century. (Itar-Tass, Interfax, April 14)
Rodionov touched on similar themes a day later in remarks to the press and during a speech at the Chinese army’s academy of military sciences in Beijing. He pointed to Russian-Chinese military cooperation as a key to stability in the Asia-Pacific region and suggested the two countries should promote a broader regional dialogue on potential security threats. He said that potential sources of conflict in the region stem from "unsettled territorial, political, and economic contradictions." (Interfax, Itar-Tass, Xinhua, April 15)
Rodionov’s talk of "strategic partnership" with China and of a "multi-polar" international order was a faithful reflection of the Kremlin’s official line on these issues. But the remarks contrasted markedly with public statements made by Rodionov in December of last year. Then, in an unexpectedly harsh Cold War style speech, the Russian defense minister listed China among a handful of countries that were, in his view, attempting to increase their defense capabilities with the hope of expanding their influence on the territory of the former Soviet Union. Rodionov’s remarks provoked a rebuke from the Russian Foreign Ministry, and Rodionov has generally toed the line since then on relations with China. (See Monitor, January 2)
Rodionov’s current visit to Beijing comes in the run-up to the April 22-26 visit to Moscow by Chinese Communist party leader and president Jiang Zemin. Having suffered a diplomatic setback on NATO enlargement, the Kremlin has portrayed this "summit" meeting as the culmination of steadily improving relations with China and as a response to the Western alliance’s plans. Indeed, Russian diplomats observed on April 14 that Jiang Zemin and Boris Yeltsin are expected to adopt the first joint statement on foreign policy issues in the history of the two countries. Another highlight of the meeting is the planned signing by Russia, China, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan of an agreement on military force reductions along the former Soviet-Chinese border. (Itar-Tass, April 14)
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