Page last updated at 16:08 GMT, Friday, 23 May 2008 17:08 UK

Russian-Chinese message to US

By Jonathan Marcus
BBC diplomatic correspondent

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) and Chinese President Hu Jintao toast in Beijing on 23 May 2008
The joint statement came as Russia's new president began a state visit

The joint statement from Russia and China criticising US plans for anti-missile defences is a very public condemnation of a scheme which both countries have long opposed.

Issuing this on the first day of new Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Beijing is intended to send a clear signal, not only to the Bush administration, but also to its successor, that other nuclear powers, too, have firm views about the validity of such a system.

The US has long been trying to convince Moscow that its very limited proposals for a handful of interceptor missiles in Poland and an associated radar system in the Czech Republic are no threat to Russia's interests.

Washington says the scheme is intended to defend against a potential threat from Iran.

But the Russians simply do not accept this.

They take the view that even a small-scale system, once up and running, will inevitably lead to much more comprehensive defences. And this is very much a view that China shares.

Public relations battle

Friday's joint statement refers to US plans to create "a global missile defence system".

Russia clearly is trying to leverage its energy resources into a powerful foreign policy tool, with some success

This, the Americans will insist, is not at all what they have in mind, and they will - no doubt - argue that Russia and China know this.

However, Moscow sees an opportunity here to exert political leverage. For the Russians, China's endorsement of their position is important in the broader public relations battle.

Moscow is especially eager to influence the political mood in Poland and the Czech Republic, hoping to throw up another obstacle to the eventual deployment of any system.

Public opinion, especially in the Czech Republic, is by no means convinced. And it is far from certain at this stage that the necessary legislation would get a majority in the Czech parliament.

Medvedev's warning

But, of course, there are wider geopolitical issues at work, too.

Russian intercontinental ballistic missile launched last year

The Russian-Chinese statement sends a strong message that there are power centres in the world other than Washington; a point reinforced by Mr Medvedev's decision to head first East - rather than West - for his first trip abroad as president.

All in all, the new president's foreign policy seems unsurprisingly little different from that of his predecessor, Vladimir Putin.

Mr Medvedev only on Thursday explicitly described the US missile defence scheme as "a threat to Russia's interests", and he again warned that Moscow would take appropriate measures if its deployment went ahead.

Russia's 'ultimate dream'

President Medvedev's first foray abroad again underscores the central role of energy exports and energy transit routes in Russia's foreign policy. Moscow hopes that energy will be a growing element in its relationship with Beijing.

And, perhaps, to emphasise this Mr Medvedev's first stopover was in Kazakhstan, which could become the key Central Asian link in the pipeline networks between Russia and China.

It is early days yet. Russia's energy fields are thousands of kilometres away from China.

But some analysts wonder if Russia's ultimate dream of being able to swing its energy supplies eastwards or westwards in line with the prevailing foreign policy mood in the Kremlin - all the time sitting astride the vital energy lines of communication - is not slowly becoming closer to a reality.

Russia clearly is trying to leverage its energy resources into a powerful foreign policy tool, with some success.

Moscow is also intent on providing what might be called an asymmetric response to setbacks in other policy areas where it finds itself at a disadvantage.

Russia strongly opposed Kosovo's independence, for example, but its voice counted for little. It has sought to respond elsewhere, stepping up its support for Russian separatists in Georgia.

Its attempt to forge a common front with China is part of this, too. But it may only go so far.

Beijing is a far more cautious player in many ways. Its economy is inextricably bound up with that of the US.

And the more assertive - sometimes raucous - tone of Russian diplomacy is not the way the Chinese do things at all.

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