Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev kicked off a four-day visit to China yesterday with the goal of further strengthening ties between Moscow and Beijing in the areas of security and military-technical cooperation. Sergeev, a former commander of Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces, arrived in Beijing following visits to India and Vietnam. He held talks yesterday with Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian, delivered a lecture at China’s national defense academy and is expected to meet tomorrow with Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
Russia and China have repeatedly declared themselves to be a “strategic partnership,” but their record in translating those declarations into concrete actions has been mixed. They have failed miserably, for example, in efforts to boost bilateral Russian-Chinese trade. Mindful, moreover, of the need to maintain good relations with the United States and the West, Moscow and Beijing have made clear that their “partnership” is not directed at third countries and does not in any sense constitute a military alliance.
The two countries have, however, joined to express their dissatisfaction over the leading role played by the United States on the international stage. They have called instead for a transition to a “multipolar” post-Cold War world. That common view, and Russian-Chinese diplomatic cooperation more generally, has been evidenced most recently by the efforts of each country to block proposed NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia. Moscow and Beijing, each a permanent UN Security Council member, have insisted that any NATO action in Yugoslavia must first be authorized by the Council.
In the same vein, the two countries have warned that NATO operations in Yugoslavia could set a dangerous precedent which would leave other sovereign nations–particularly those dealing with restive national minorities–vulnerable to the alliance’s military might. Moscow has said that it fears possible NATO intervention in the event of turmoil in one of the country’s volatile regions, including, especially, the Caucasus. China professes similar concerns with regard to Tibet.
Those issues, as well as tensions in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the globe, were reportedly discussed during Sergeev’s talks yesterday with his Chinese counterpart. The two sides also underscored their joint concern over the recent strengthening of military cooperation between Washington and Tokyo, as well as over proposals currently being mooted which call for the United States and Japan to work together in the development of a theater-level antiballistic missile system (AP, September 20). That last proposal gained some urgency in Tokyo and Washington with the test firing by North Korea on August 31 of an improved medium-range ballistic missile. Sergeev reportedly said in his address at the Chinese national defense academy that both Russia and China believe U.S.-Japanese cooperation in this area would have an adverse impact on the strategic balance in the Asia-Pacific region. Sergeev restated Moscow’s support for regular four-party consultations between Russia, China, Japan and the United States on Asian security matters (Itar-Tass, Xinhua, October 22).
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