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Russia and China Seek Dominance in Asia


In the past few years, China and Russia have grown closer, wiping out old border disputes, signing new trade agreements and conducting large-scale joint military maneuvers. Analysts say Sino-Russian unprecedented rapprochement is a clear sign that the two countries want to control Asia-Pacific region.

The improvement of Sino-Russian relations caught the world's attention in 2001 when the two countries formalized their regional organization known as the Shanghai Five. The group composed of China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan was renamed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and stated that its official goal was to fight the three evils -- terrorism, separatism and extremism -- as well as expand mutual economic cooperation.

Sino-Russian Relationship Intensifying

Since then, agreements between China and Russia have been multiplying. In addition to arms sales, Russia has promised to supply China with oil and gas. Long-standing border disputes between the two countries have been settled. But most remarkable of all were joint military exercises conducted last summer, says David Satter, a scholar at The Johns Hopkins University's Foreign Policy Institute.

"There were ten-thousand troops involved and long-range Russian bombers took part. Russia has long been the chief arms supplier for China, but what was significant about these maneuvers, besides the fact that they happened at all and that they happened on Chinese territory, was the fact that Russia's Backfire bomber was involved in them. This is a bomber that the Chinese would like to purchase and it would definitely have a role in any Chinese invasion of Taiwan," says David Satter.

The size of the maneuvers caused concern for U.S. allies in the region -- Japan, South Korea and above all Taiwan. But China and Russia said that the exercises were not directed at any particular country. Their stated objective was to prepare against terrorist attacks and test weapons that China wants to buy.

Display of Military Power

But most analysts agree that the exercises were for conventional warfare, which would be of limited use against terrorist organizations. And new weapon systems, many say, can be better tested under factory conditions. Analysts generally agree that the maneuvers were a message to the United States that China and Russia consider themselves to be in control of the Asia-Pacific region. David Satter says that even before the maneuvers, the Sino-Russian Declaration on World Order in the 21st Century, signed last July, reveals an intent by China and Russia to tip the balance of power in their favor.

"It indicated in an indirect way that the two countries have a joint interest in preventing the United States from exercising hegemonic influence in the world. It said something to the effect that all countries should observe the principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and non-interference in each other's internal affairs," says David Satter.

David Satter says both Russia and China fear a spread of Muslim fundamentalism in Central Asia. They see western efforts to foster democracy in the region as destabilizing. Most of all, he says, both countries resent a perceived U.S. influence so close to their borders. Justin Logan, a foreign policy analyst at the Washington-based Cato Institute, adds that Russia has long been concerned about expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

"We've always been questioning, since the end of the Cold War, where Russia's red line is," says Logan, "You had NATO expansion into the Baltics. Some people thought that was going to cause a big problem. But I think that when you see regimes that have very prickly relations with Moscow in both Georgia and Ukraine cozying up to NATO, Russia has sort of drawn the line in the sand and said that this is too far."

Justin Logan says Russia has decided to show the West that it has alternatives. Meanwhile, China has a growing economy and is interested in Russia's oil and gas. And, he says, a display of military power through maneuvers is expected to discourage any attempts by Taiwan in the south or China's Muslims in the north to seek independence.

Looking for Allies

Last July, China and Russia granted India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The move brought together four nuclear powers and nearly half of the world's population. Some analysts say the United States should be concerned by such gathering of powers. But many argue that the organization does not have a long-term future.

Ilan Berman, a senior analyst at the American Foreign Policy Council, says China and Russia have a history of tense relations and that old rivalries are bound to resurface. "First of all, China is expanding economically very quickly and it needs more and more foreign energy sources to fuel its economic growth," says Berman. "And a lot of them are situated to the north of Beijing. So, as China begins to expand into Central Asia and into the Caucasus, it is looking for the same things that Russia is looking for. It is looking for prestige, political influence and sources of new energy. And that means that eventually competition, and not cooperation, is going to become the order of the day."

Some observers add that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is essentially based on a negative strategic objective: to counter U.S. or western influence, while positive common goals are largely absent. Ilan Berman says states with such divergent interests are unlikely to form a strong and long lasting alliance that could pose a threat to the United States.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.