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Chinese-Russian Talks Expected to Focus on Economic Issues - 2001-09-07

China's prime minister, Zhu Rongji, arrives in Moscow Friday. He will meet with President Vladimir Putin and other senior leaders. Discussions are expected to focus mostly on economic issues, although U.S. plans to build a missile defense system are also likely to come up.

Indications are Mr. Zhu's visit will result in some lucrative bilateral deals, including construction of an oil pipeline from Russia's Siberian Irkutsk region to Daling in northeastern China. The pipeline, scheduled for completion by 2005, will cost close to $2 billion and double the volume of trade between the two nations.

Political analyst Alexander Salitsky, of Moscow's Center for Development and Modernization Issues, says President Putin should strive to capitalize on its growing ties with China to boost Russia's ailing economy. "There is perhaps a historic chance for Russia now to make good use of the political engagement with the Chinese leadership," he said. "Mr. Putin is much more practical than his predecessor and if he will promote good use of this commonality, perhaps Russia, with its slow economy, can become part of a new Asian economic dynamic."

The relationship between Russia and China has certainly blossomed, boosted in part by their common opposition to U.S. plans to build a missile defense system, and what they see as American domination of world affairs.

A significant breakthrough came in July when Chinese President Ziang Zemin and President Putin signed a friendship and cooperation treaty during the Chinese leader's visit to Russia. The treaty includes pledges to respect each other's borders and territorial integrity, and it is the first major treaty between the two nations since the Soviet Union collapsed a decade ago. It is also their first official declaration of friendship since a 1969 Chinese-Soviet border war near Manchuria. Both countries insist the new treaty does not constitute a political or military alliance and poses a threat to no one.

Some analysts see in the treaty a burgeoning anti-American alliance reminiscent of the Cold War. Independent military analyst Alexander Golts says it's true both Moscow and Beijing are adamantly oppose U.S. plans to build a ballistic missile defense shield, or BMD. But he says that's not enough for a united front. "I'm skeptical about any possibility for Russia and China to cooperate in this field," he said. "Their goals are different. BMD can be a threat to China from a military point of view because we know the Chinese have little more than 20 intercontinental ballistic missiles. So it's quite possible that a future American system can intercept them. So it will be a real change in the security balance in the Pacific and between China and the United States. Russian opposition to BMD is not military in origin; it's purely political."

Mr. Golts says while Russia is clearly ready to bargain, China will likely take a much harder line against U.S. plans. However, China's foreign ministry spokesman said in Beijing Thursday that while China remains opposed to the U.S. missile defense plans, it is not ruling out dialogue on the issue.

Other analysts point out that Russia and China have additional shared concerns and interests that have nothing to do with the United States. They both want to ensure security around their vast borders and guard against separatist movements, radical Islamic groups and drug trafficking in Central Asia. Development of Russia's energy resources will benefit China, and China's growing labor force could benefit Russia's growing demand for labor.

Mr. Zhu's visit to Russia is seen as part of an effort to cement a relationship between two neighbors who have much to offer each other.