Russia, China Find A Cause Against West

Feeling left out, two giants repair ties during Chinese president's visit this week.

Russia and China launched a rhetorical salvo here Tuesday against American dominance of the post-cold-war world, as officials said that Moscow and Beijing planned to work more closely to counterbalance Washington's global influence.

Presidents Boris Yeltsin of Russia and visiting Jiang Zemin of China signed a "Joint Declaration on the Multipolar World and a New World Order."

"No country should claim hegemony for itself or pursue policy from positions of strength and monopolize international affairs," the declaration read in a clear reference to the United States.

"This does not mean that we will confront the United States in every instance," explains senior Foreign Ministry official Vladimir Rakhmanin. "But the purpose is to even out relations in the international arena."

The declaration, which Mr. Yeltsin called "of historic importance," signals a further strengthening of the "strategic partnership" between the two Asian giants, who have had frosty diplomatic ties for the past three decades.

The warmth of Mr. Zemin's welcome contrasts starkly with past decades of hostility between Beijing and Moscow, when each vied for leadership of the Communist world.

The new mood is especially notable in the context of Moscow's currently strained relations with the West over NATO's plans to expand eastward up to Russia's border. "The spirit of [Jiang's] visit is in sharp contrast to the tendencies emerging in the West," the Itar-Tass news agency quoted Russia's ambassador to Beijing, Igor Rogachev, as saying.

Some analysts here see a direct link. "The contradictions between Russia and the West, and China and the West are growing stronger, so naturally the peripheral countries seek a way out through a union among themselves," suggests Alexander Yakovlev of the Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Moscow.

"It has become clear that Russia will never be an equal partner for the West, so we should look for other allies," he adds.

Other observers - including Russian diplomats - insist that Moscow's growing ties with Beijing are merely evidence of more balance in Russian foreign policy.

"This is a very important visit to balance our foreign policy" which until recently had been heavily oriented toward the West, says Vladimir Averchev, a member of the Duma (lower house of parliament) Foreign Affairs Committee. "Russia is a multiregional power, and it is in our interests to have stable and preferably friendly relations with the major players in all the regions where we are involved."

"Our longest border is with China," points out Mr. Rakhmanin, deputy director of the China desk at Russia's Foreign Ministry. "And the Russian emblem is a two-headed eagle - it looks both ways, and we do live in the East as well as the West."

With Russian power in decline and China in the ascendant, and the empty stretches of resource-rich Siberia next door to heavily populated Shantung Province just across the border, peaceful relations with its eastern neighbor are clearly important to Russia.

The two countries plan to mark the new era of friendlier ties - they nearly went to war after border skirmishes in 1969 - with a treaty to limit the numbers of their troops within 62 miles of their 2,700-mile frontier.

Another sign that Russia is less worried than it once was about a Chinese threat to its own security is the eagerness with which Russian arms merchants are trying to sell weapons systems to Beijing as it modernizes its military.

Although details of such sales are kept secret, Russia is known to have sold over 40 Sukhoi-27 jets to China, along with several batteries of its S-300 antimissile system and at least two Kilo-class submarines. Negotiations are under way for the sale of two latest generation destroyers.

IN the long run, as the two countries seek to boost their annual trade turnover from $7 billion to $20 billion by 2005, Russian exports in the energy sector are of greater importance. The Russians are building a nuclear reactor not far from Shanghai, a Russian consortium is bidding for the massive Three Gorges hydro-electric project, and a feasibility study is under way for an oil-and-gas pipeline from Tomsk, in Siberia, to southern China.

Whether all this salesmanship adds up to a "strategic partnership," however, is uncertain behind all the diplomatic hype.

For Professor Yakovlev, "China and Russia are playing each other as cards in their relationships with the United States. But this is a first warning, that if the Americans don't stop pressuring us, the relationship could become a strategic one."

Russian officials, however, are quick to dispel the idea of an anti-Western alliance. "Suppositions about creating counterbalances to blocs are vicious and counterproductive," Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky insisted on Tuesday.

Closer ties with Beijing, added Rakhmanin, "are not directed against the West. We are simply strengthening Russia's positions in the international arena."

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