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Putin Begins 3-Day China Visit - 2002-12-01

Russian President Vladimir Putin is flying to China Sunday to meet the new leaders in Beijing and discuss numerous issues of mutual interest. Russian officials stress that the three-day visit to Beijing comes at a crucial time for China.

President Putin's trip to China comes in the middle of a change in leadership in Beijing. In addition to meeting with President Jiang Zemin, the Russian leader will hold talks with Mr. Jiang's newly appointed successor, Hu Jintao.

Hu Jintao was named to head the Chinese Communist Party at a recent congress and will become president next March.

Kremlin officials say Mr. Putin wants to reassure both Chinese leaders that the two countries should build on a friendship treaty he signed with President Jiang last year.

That document was aimed at overcoming often strained relations between the two giant neighbors dating back to the 1950s.

Communist rivalry gave way to economic and trade issues after the collapse of the Soviet Union more than a decade ago, and officials say Mr. Putin wants to focus on that.

The leaders will also discuss the ongoing war against terrorism, in which Mr. Putin is expected to seek to overcome Chinese uneasiness with Moscow's warmer relations with the United States.

Officials say that in addition to cooperating with the United States on many issues, the Russian president sees China as another key player.

Leaders in both countries have long talked about maintaining a multi-polar world as a way of lessening the paramount role America plays in world affairs.

How to deal with North Korea is also expected to be part of the Beijing talks. Both Russia and China have leverage with Pyongyang, and both are concerned about North Korea's pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

Following his China visit, Mr. Putin will make stops in India and Kyrgyzstan before returning to Moscow.