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The BBC's Jacky Rowland in Blagoveshchensk
"The Russians need the Chinese"
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Saturday, 14 July, 2001, 09:43 GMT 10:43 UK
Russia and China's uneasy partnership
Vladimir Putin and Jiang Zemin
Russia and China are united in their opposition to US plans for a missile defence shield
By BBC News Online's Stephen Mulvey

President Jiang Zemin's visit to Moscow comes at a time when both sides have been saying that relations have never been better.

We think it's a peaceful treaty that highlights a quest for co-operation, peace and prosperity

Chinese Foreign Ministry official
After many months of negotiations the two sides will sign a major treaty, putting some flesh on the bones of the "strategic partnership" that has been talked about at least since a visit to Beijing by ex-President Boris Yeltsin in 1996.

It's said that the document - the first of its kind since 1949 - will set the framework for this partnership over the next 10 years.

Although officials stress that it is not directed against any third party, few analysts doubt that a major stimulus has been the desire, on both sides, to stand up to US global dominance.

Multi-polar world

Nato's bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo crisis is said to have acted as a wake-up call in both Moscow and Beijing, and the two capitals are now just as united - at least on the surface - in their opposition to US plans for a missile defence shield.

Vladimir Putin and Jiang Zemin
Behind the smiles, anxieties remain
If Russia and China work together - the thinking goes in Moscow - they can show the US that the old bi-polar world has given way to a multi-polar, not a uni-polar one.

The two countries also have a range of other shared interests and concerns.

One of the most important is their fear of separatism and Islamic fundamentalism from Xinjiang, in north-west China, to Chechnya in the Caucasus, which threatens to destabilise the states of Central Asia.

Both seek to restrict US and Turkish influence in this region.

And both countries would also dearly like to raise trade turnover from a disappointing $8bn in 2000 - less than half the target of $20bn.

US trade

China is already Russia's biggest customer for arms, accounting for more than half of all Russian defence sales in 2000, yet both sides see this as a promising area for further growth.

Trade in 2000
Russia-China: $8bn
Arms deals: about $2bn
US-China: $75bn
There are also ambitious (some say unrealistic) plans for mammoth pipelines to carry Russian oil and gas to China's energy-hungry cities.

But despite all this common ground, the interests of the two sides still clearly differ in important respects, and their smiles mask serious anxieties.

Crucially, while keen to challenge US dominance in world affairs, both are still eager to maintain good relations with Washington.

Putin-Jiang meetings in 2001
Shanghai: June
Moscow: July
Shanghai: October
Economically, China does not want to jeopardise its trade with the US - which last year was worth nearly 10 times as much as its trade with Russia - while Russia sees the West as its primary source of trade and investment.

Militarily, the two countries' joint opposition to President Bush's plans for missile defence, cannot disguise the fact that Russia has offered to work with the US on a system of limited or "theatre" missile defence - but China is bitterly opposed to such a system, because of its potential application in Japan and Taiwan.

Westward-leaning Russia

Beijing must also be aware of the widely held view that Russia will drive a hard bargain with the US on missile defence, but will eventually capitulate - because its own nuclear deterrent, unlike China's, will not be seriously undermined.

George Bush and Vladimir Putin
Will they do a deal on missile defence?
Moscow, meanwhile, knows that China will not be seriously disturbed if Nato moves into the Baltic states, in defiance of all Russian objections, and is unlikely to provide Moscow with much support.

There is also the question of Russia's spiritual sense of belonging. The country spans both Europe and Asia, but under the St Petersburger, Vladimir Putin, it is looking increasingly West.

In his state of the nation speech earlier this year, it was widely noted that Mr Putin emphasised the importance of relations with Europe without once mentioning the US. But he also failed to mention China.

Russian analysts who take a long view of the future frequently argue that arming China now with sophisticated weapons, though lucrative in the short term, is a risky strategy.

They see, on the one hand, Russia's run-down and sparsely populated far eastern territories, and, on the other, an overpopulated and economically vigorous China - and they ask how long a "strategic partnership" with this budding superpower is sustainable.

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See also:

15 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Shanghai summit backs ABM Treaty
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18 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
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China warns against US missile defence
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17 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
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18 Jul 00 | Europe
In Pictures: Old foes, new smiles
06 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
US missiles: China's view
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