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Western Press Review: Commentators Skeptical Of Russian-Chinese Entente

  • Don Hill

Prague, 25 April 1997 (RFE/RL) -- When the dragon and the bear danced in Moscow this week, their warm embrace made a pretty picture. But Western commentators said they found less there than met the eye.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: China and Russia Seek solace from the East yet enjoy rewards from the West

In a news analysis Vanora Bennett wrote that, despite the prickly words of Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin in their summit meeting, neither man is likely to turn his nation away from the economic rewards of dealing with the West. She said: "Seeking solace from the East for the snubs it believes the West is dealing it, Russia signed an agreement with its former Communist rival China Wednesday to prevent world domination by a single superpower."

Bennett also said: "Neither Russia nor China is expected to turn its back on the West, because both still need Western help to complete their economic reform programs. Any formal alliance between the two old rivals is also perceived to be a long way off."

WASHINGTON POST: Sino-Russian summit promotes calm along the borders

David Hoffman reports today on another development in the Sino-Russian summit, that of promoting calm along Central Asian international borders. But here too, he writes, the actual impact is uncertain. Hoffman says: "Russia, China and three Central Asian neighbors signed an agreement hailed as a breakthrough in reducing military forces along their shared 4,340-mile border, but the extent of the actual pullback of forces remained unclear."

Hoffman continues: "Russian officials had been quoted earlier as saying that the agreement also called for a 15 percent reduction in troops over two years. But, sensitive to the suggestion that Russia would be leaving its border vulnerable, Russian officials issued conflicting statements about possible troop cuts."

NEW YORK TIMES: Chinese-Russian show targets domestic audience

Washington bureau chief Michael R. Gordon said yesterday in a news analysis that the Chinese-Russian show of comradeship seemed addressed more to a domestic than an international audience. Gordon wrote that Yeltsin and Jiang "pledged on Wednesday to work together to limit American power and influence in the world."

He said: "In a summit meeting at the start of a five-day state visit that was laden with political symbolism, the two leaders did not single out the United States by name. But their message, aimed in part at a Russian public that has been bombarded with alarmist reports about NATO expansion and the U.S. role as the sole remaining superpower, was clear."

Gordon wrote: "Even without talk of NATO expansion, Russia and China have many reasons to cooperate, particularly over the short-run, as the two countries are experiencing their warmest ties in years." He added: "For Russian politicians, improving ties with China has emerged as a way to play to a weary public that is increasingly convinced that the end of the Cold War left the West with the upper hand." And, the Times writer said: "For the Chinese, the Moscow meetings provide an opportunity for Jiang to take the world stage after the death of China's ultimate leader, Deng Xiaoping."

Gordon concluded: "In the meantime, Moscow and China keep to the refrain that international politics is now based on several major power centers and that the West is not calling all the shots, as if their populations may come to accept the point if it is repeated enough."

HANDELSBLATT: Summit significant but limited

From Moscow, Markus Zeiner comments in the German newspaper that the summit is symbolically significant, but pragmatically limited. He says: "The Russians and the Chinese are equally friends of the symbolic." And he adds: "However level-headed and useful the official part of the state visit, (Jiang's Moscow) tourist program is a ritual."

Zeiner's commentary continues: "The two neighbors, who in this century have experienced great vicissitudes in their development, are increasingly aware of needing each other. This applies all the more as both Russia and China face contrasting transformation processes. In Beijing, there is a threat of a political change due to economic successes, whereas in Moscow the new political freedom is endangered by profound economic poverty."

Zeiner writes: "Their common interest is to have a gentle shot at Washington. Yet to attack violently the leading role of the United States and precipitate a serious conflict hardly can be Moscow's wish." He concludes: "The celebrated shoulder to shoulder coupling of Russia and China is no more than a marriage of reason."

BOSTON GLOBE: Eastern powers share tense history

David Filipov wrote yesterday in a news analysis that the two Eastern powers have a tense history. He said: "For decades, Soviet and Chinese troops clashed along the 1,000-mile Sino-Soviet border, and Moscow and Beijing waged an even more bitter ideological battle for leadership in the Communist world. Suspicions remain between the Asian giants, fueled by lingering border disputes and China's emergence as a serious competitor for Russia's lucrative share of the international small arms market.

"But Jiang's visit underscored the improving relations between Russia and China. It was the fifth Sino-Russian summit since 1991 and a follow-up to Yeltsin's Chinese visit in 1996, which produced the two countries' first cooperation agreement since the early 1950s."

WASHINGTON POST: Previous tensions continue to linger

In an analysis yesterday, Lee Hockstader agreed that Sino-Russian tensions have a long history and he cast doubt on whether they're wholly dissolved. He wrote: "Beyond pomp, ceremony and warm words at their Moscow summit, there was little sign of the specific policies or actions Yeltsin and Jiang planned that would advance the 'new international order' they gravely proclaimed. Although both presidents took pains not to mention the United States by name, their resentment of America's unrivaled clout hung over the hour-long Kremlin signing ceremony."

Hockstader said: "Few details were available here on what the declared warming in Russian-Chinese relations would mean. But Yeltsin's Communist and nationalist foes in parliament, who have little love for the Chinese but even less for the Americans, applauded it. In the past, mutual suspicions between the two Asian giants ran deep. China and the Soviet Union were communist allies in the 1950s, joining forces to support North Korea in the Korean War and posing what the West saw at the time as a formidable menace in the East."

He also wrote: "But their relations cooled in the 1960s amid ideological differences and competition for prestige in the communist world, and in 1969 there were border clashes between Chinese and Soviet troops. That left an icy legacy that did not begin to thaw until Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev visited Beijing in 1989. Even now, the two sides often regard each other warily."