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Monday, 15 January, 2001, 16:25 GMT
Old enemies now forever friends?
The Russian and Chinese Prime Ministers shake hands
Russia and China come closer
By BBC Russia analyst Steven Eke

As the new US President, George W Bush, declares his intention to press ahead with an anti-missile defence system, in the face of despite Russian objections, Moscow is building a new alliance with China.

The two countries are enjoying their closest ties since the days of the Sino-Soviet alliance in the 1950s, and diplomats in Beijing and Moscow are working on a new political treaty to cement them.

It is the first time the two countries have moved to formalise their relations since the previous Cold War friendship pact expired over 20 years ago.

But China's diplomats have been keen to dismiss suggestions of a new "strategic alliance" - the term Moscow uses to describe its relations with everyone except the US.

Economic interests

Economic co-operation between the two nations has expanded rapidly over recent years.

Chinese consumer goods find a ready market in Russia, and Chinese migrant workers have set up thriving commercial centres in Russia's far eastern provinces.

The two Russian commodities that interest China most of all are gas and weaponry.

Prime Minister Kasyanov
Russian Prime Minister Kasyanov: Bridging China's Great Wall
Moscow has not had much success in winning tenders to supply industrial equipment to China - the Chinese prefer the more modern and reliable European goods - but arms deals are growing fast.

Russia and China almost came to war over border skirmishes. But now the two countries speak the same diplomatic language over their ideas of what "world order" should exist.

Both reject the idea of US domination or intervention on "humanitarian grounds" in the affairs of sovereign states.

Russia's opposition to Nato's intervention in Kosovo was strengthened considerably by Nato's accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.

Since then, China has firmly supported Russia's actions in the breakaway republic of Chechnya. China, too, fears Islamic extremism, with unrest simmering among the country's Muslim Uighur population.

In return, Moscow enthusiastically supports Beijing's claims to Taiwan.

Military alliances

Russia is economically weak - but new military alliances help it to make its voice heard. Particularly in its opposition to US plans to develop a new space-based anti-missile defence shield.

President Putin
Russia's President Putin lays a wreath in Tiananmen Square
Moscow believes the plan, enthusiastically backed by George W Bush, would violate the 1972 anti-ballistic missile, or ABM, Treaty signed by Washington and Moscow.

But Moscow cannot answer with advanced technology and is building up diplomatic opposition instead.

But there are also potential stumbling blocks that could harm the new friendship.

Moscow does not want to see China's influence in Russia's far eastern region grow too strong.

And both Russia and China are trying to increase their influence over Central Asia, where rich mineral deposits could potentially mean high rewards.

Border tensions have not eased completely and China still resents parts of what it considers its territory being within Russia's borders.

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See also:

07 Dec 00 | Business
China's exports surge
12 Jan 01 | Americas
China denounces missile shield plan
04 Jun 99 | Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square remembered
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