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Press Review: Yeltsin Seeks China Opening

  • Don Hill

Prague, April 24 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin, seeking reelection at home at least in part by portraying himself as a player on the international stage, is due to arrive in Beijing today. Press commentary examines prospects for a China-Russia rapprochement.

Steve Mufson writes in today's Washington Post: "Russian President Boris Yeltsin, once labeled a traitor to the socialist cause by Chinese leaders who derisively called him czar, will be the toast of Beijing when he arrives (today) for his second visit. It is only the third visit by a Kremlin leader since the two giant powers parted ways in the 1950s. And though China and Russia will sign about a dozen agreements that will be hailed as a 'new type of partnership,' the leaders of the two nations remain deeply divided in political ideology, style and strategy. Yeltsin is competing for the votes of the Russian people as he campaigns for reelection in June. Chinese leaders, however, are never subjected to such public rituals or tests. Instead, they play an obscure game of factional politics behind closed doors, much as Soviet leaders used to do."

Britain's Financial Times says today in an editorial: "Yeltsin's first trip to Beijing since the end of 1993 will tell the rest of the world very little that it did not already know. The basic message will be that China and Russia share a long border and a desire to espress their independence from the United States. The more important, and ominous, issue raised by the visit will be whether Mr. Yeltsin, bent on re-election, learns the wrong lessons about economic reform.... The Russian government can learn many lessons from China's success, but a need for authoritarianism is not one of them.... Russia does need a stronger state. But only one that is capable, as was China's in its own way, of creating a secure framework for private business.... Democracy is a good in itself. It is also essential for economic reform."

Gerald Segal is a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. He writes today in the International Herald Tribune: "The prospects for Russia in East Asia are best described as an optimistic illusion. Who would have thought just five years ago that Russia might matter so little? Russia has a population near the Pacific of only some 3 million. It is therefore unlikely to be a regional production base or a major market.... For Moscow, improving relations with Beijing carries major risks. Russia would have to settle for second-class status in an East Asia that is growing more wary of Chinese intentions. By betting so heavily on China, it might find itself even more isolated from the main centers of dynamism in the region."

Alexei K. Pushkov, director for political and foreign affairs at Russian Public Television writes in the Herald Tribune today: "The underlying question of Boris Yeltsin's long-delayed trip to Beijing is how close Russia and China can become.... Some U.S. observers foresee active diplomatic cooperation directed against U.S. foreign policy goals.... The likelihood is that the two giants will seek to use and balance each other, rather than forge an unnatural and unproductive alliance."

The Daily Telegraph in Great Britain carries today an analysis by Alan Philps in Moscow and Graham Hutchings in Beijing. They write: "(Yeltsin's) three-day Beijing visit will... be a welcome boost to China's leaders. With Sino-U.S. relations at a low ebb, they are anxious to show Washington that they have pwerful suitors. In China's own parlance, it is time to play the Russian card."

Michael Richardson writes in today's International Herald Tribune: "While Asian countries regard reconciliation between China and Russia as an immediate plus for regional stability, they also worry that Russian arms and friendship might embolden Beijing to use force to pursue its territorial claims to Taiwan and other parts of Asia.... Even though they are concerned about weapons sales and the transfer of advanced military technology by Russia to China, most Asian nations fear the alternative of bad relations betwen Moscow and Beijing even more.... Russia now sees China as an important political partner to counterbalance the West, as well as a major market for arms and civilian products."

A staff-written analysis in The Wall Street Journal Europe today says: "It's the second romance for the two powers since World War Two. In the 1950s, Mao Tse-tung compared the closeness of the two countries to (that of) teeth and lips. Big brother... rebuilt China's war-shattered bureaucracy, military and heavy industry. But Mao and Soviet leader Josef Stalin never trusted each other, and the anti-Western alliance they established crumpled in the early 1960s.... Politically, the two countries have more in common, and less to argue about, than at any time in recent decades. Even a festering border dispute is in negotations, with Russia and China, along with three former Soviet states, Kazakhstan, Krgyzstan, and Tajikistan, planning to sign an agreement Friday."

Tony Walker writes today in the Financial Times: "China is giving every indication it plans to use the Yeltsin visit... to emphasize that while its relationship with the world's remaining superpower may be awkward, ties with Russia are relatively trouble-free (but) there is no indication of any interest in defense links beyond ensuring calm along the 4,300 km Sino-Russian frontier and access to military hardware."

"Not everything is sweetness and light between Russia and China," Teresa Poole writes from Peking with Tony Barber today in the British newspaper The Independent: "Earlier this month, officials in Russia's Primorsky region on the Pacific coast protested loudly at the way in which a disputed part of the Russian-Chinese border was being demarcated.... Yeltsin also may not get much joy if he tries to persuade Chinese leaders to let Russia join talks on tensions on the Korean peninsula. The United States wants the talks limited to China, the two Korean states and itself, and there are few signs China is keen to see Russian involvement."

Jonathan Mirsky writes from Hong Kong in The London Times (F802): "It is one of the ironies of international relations that Russia, or othe former Soviet Union, once regarded in China as the advanced elder brother is now in economic and military eclipse and may be on the verge of reestablishing its communist structure."