Page last updated at 12:01 GMT, Monday, 29 December 2008

Army phone links China and Russia

By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Beijing

Chinese military officers
Communication is expected to improve between Beijing and Moscow

A new military hotline between Beijing and Moscow has been used for the first time, according to reports in the Chinese state media.

A senior Chinese officer discussed a range of topics with his Russian counterpart, Xinhua news agency said.

The phone link is designed for "timely communication on significant issues".

Efforts to set up a similar hotline, mainly for use during crises, between Beijing and Washington appear to have stalled, correspondents say.

In a world where emails and mobile devices mean you can always be in touch with the office, it seems strange that two of the world's most important military powers have only now started using a direct telephone link designed to make it easier for their senior officers to contact each other.

Crisis concerns

No doubt security concerns and diplomatic issues had to be resolved first.

But in huge bureaucracies it is not always easy to get to the man in charge in a hurry.

The hotline will now make that easier.

Put simply, the Chinese can now pick up the phone when there is a crisis and ask the Russians what is going on and what they are doing about it.

This first historic call was not so urgent, apparently.

The two soldiers exchanged views on the international and regional situation, bilateral relations and other issues of common concern.

There is still no hotline between China's armed forces and the Pentagon in Washington.

The two countries' presidents first agreed to set one up nearly three years ago.

A further deal was signed between the two defence departments in February but since then progress on establishing it appears to have stalled.

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