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Russia: President Putin Plans To Visit China

  • Gregory Feifer

Russian President Vladimir Putin travels to Beijing this weekend to meet China's newly selected leaders. Moscow is keen to improve relations with its southern neighbor, not least to help offset U.S. power. But Russians are wary of China, which -- with its booming economy and growing military -- increasingly appears to be calling the shots. RFE/RL reports that Russian analysts are saying this weekend's trip is unlikely to produce any changes in the relationship.

Moscow, 29 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin travels to Beijing this weekend to meet with the new so-called "fourth generation" of Chinese leaders. During his 1-3 December trip, Putin will strike up relations with Hu Jintao, named Communist Party leader earlier this month. The Russian president will also meet outgoing chief Jiang Zemin, whose ongoing supervisory role analysts say will likely hold back development of Sino-Russian relations for the near future.

Vyacheslav Nikonov is director of Moscow's Politika Foundation. He said he is "not waiting for anything revolutionary from the trip." "First, nothing revolutionary ever happens just after a change of leadership. Second, there won't be anything revolutionary because China still has its 'old guard.'" Nikonov said he thinks Jiang will continue to dominate China's political climate for months, if not years.

Russia is anxious for relations to improve, not only because of China's perceived growing power, but also because Moscow and Beijing share the common goal of curbing U.S. geopolitical might. Both countries share a common stance on Iraq, calling for the United Nations Security Council to authorize any military attacks.

In an article published on 28 November in the newspaper "Kommersant," Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who will accompany Putin on his trip, writes that Russia and China are like fir trees and bamboo, intertwining for support.

Sergei Karaganov is head of Moscow's Foreign and Defense Policy Council. He agrees that ties will likely not change in the foreseeable future -- because China's interests will remain unchanged -- but adds that Russia is interested in a closer relationship. "We are deeply interested in not just 'really great,' but [truly] friendly relations with China. [China] is for us one of the most important countries for our country's geopolitical stance."

Last year, Putin and Jiang signed a friendship treaty to replace a 1950s-era agreement. But Putin caught China's leadership off guard with his post-11 September outward embrace of Washington, which came just months after a major U.S.-China diplomatic standoff over a U.S. intelligence plane forced down over Chinese territory.

Ups and downs are nothing new in relations between China and Russia, both of which once shared a communist ideology. After a brief honeymoon following China's communist revolution in 1949, Sino-Soviet relations took a turn for the worse amid constant border bickering which began in the 1950s and led to open conflict in the 1960s.

Relations entered a new phase shortly after the Soviet collapse in 1991, with Russia pushing for greater cooperation in the interests of creating a "multipolar world."

In his article, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov mentions the Shanghai Cooperation Organization -- including Russia, China, and four Central Asian states -- which Moscow hopes will grow as a forum for offsetting Western organizations. But ties have remained delicate, with Moscow wary of China's growing power on its southeast border.

Beijing is meanwhile often dismissive of Russia's chaotic economic development, instead priding itself on maintaining strict control over its own capitalist transformation.

One factor straining relations is the growing number of Chinese who travel to and settle in Siberia. Russians are often resentful of the many businesses they set up in Russia's sprawling, decaying, and sparsely populated Far East.

Beijing, for its part, is against Russia's long-standing goal of joining the World Trade Organization, citing unhappiness over quotas on cheap Chinese labor and metals and other exports.

But Moscow is keen to overcome the problems, not least because it wants to sell natural resources, especially Siberian natural gas, to China. Beijing is also one of Moscow's major arms-technology customers. Trade between the two countries last year reached a record, at more than $10 billion.

Officials say topics slated for discussion during Putin's visit include terrorism, Iraq, the United States, and pressure on North Korea to drop plans for developing nuclear weapons.

Both countries claim to be fighting internal Muslim separatist threats -- and unlike Western countries, China does not criticize Russia's brutal campaign in Chechnya, while Moscow backs Beijing's crackdowns against its Uighur ethnic minority.

Among other documents, Putin and Jiang are expected to sign a joint declaration outlining their views on foreign affairs, Russian news agencies reported.

Following his trip, Putin will make a two-day stop in India, a close trading partner and the other Asian country -- along with China -- with which Russia had hoped last decade to form a tripartite coalition to offset U.S. military and economic global domination.

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