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Tuesday, 18 July, 2000, 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK
China and Russia: shallow alliance
Toasting their special relationship
Boris Yeltsin helped develop the "strategic partnership"
By Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason

The vehement opposition of both Russia and China to US plans to set up a national system to shoot down incoming missiles is reinforcing their proclaimed strategic partnership.

The two countries had no difficulty in agreeing that Washington was seeking unilateral military superiority by pursuing its national missile defence scheme.

But there are differences in their objections.

Jiang Zemin
More is at stake for Jiang Zemin
China fears that its own nuclear missile force would be neutralised, and is outraged at the idea that Taiwan might come under the new American umbrella.

With their very large numbers of nuclear missiles, the Russians do not feel threatened in quite the same way as the Chinese.

Although President Putin has threatened to tear up other arms control treaties if the United States goes ahead, he has also recognised a potential missile threat from so-called rogue states and has suggested vaguely that Russia could co-operate with Nato on a European defence system.

Challenging US dominance

Russia and China are not alone in their criticism of the American plans, of course.

West European governments, too, fear it would upset the strategic balance and risk setting off a new arms race.

There is also a world-wide echo of Russian and Chinese resentment of the United States as the only superpower, exerting undue influence - as they and others see it - and refusing to give up any of its own freedom of action.

This resentment is an enduring element of the relationship between Moscow and Beijing.

Another is the two countries' insistence that their human rights record is their own affair.

They are often on the same side in the Security Council, arguing against UN action on Yugoslavia or Iraq.

Small-scale trading

But these are negatives; the positive side of the relationship does not amount to very much.

Trade between Russia and China is small-scale, apart from China buying Russian weapons.

And both countries - Russia especially - need western investment and do not want real confrontation with the United States.

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See also:

17 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Shared aims at Beijing summit
18 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Russia-China attack US missile plan
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