Russia, China agree to historic partnership

First item on new joint agenda is to stop proposed US missile-defence shield


Wednesday, July 19, 2000

Beijing -- When Chairman Mao Tsetung ordered the Chinese to begin building atomic-bomb shelters in the 1960s and fill them with grain, the enemy he feared wasn't anti-Communists in the United States. It was a surprise attack from Communists in the Soviet Union, who had gone sour on their fellow revolutionaries' efforts in China.

Well, it's a new century, and a wholly different era.

Yesterday, a beaming Chinese President Jiang Zemin marched through Tiananmen Square with Russian President Vladimir Putin at his side. As an honour guard of Chinese soldiers fired off a 21-gun salute, the two men strode along red carpets above those dusty Maoist nuclear shelters, some of which have recently been turned into discos and carpet shops.

A few hours later, Mr. Jiang emerged from more than two hours of meetings with a declaration that would have shocked Mao, whose body is in a crystal crypt on the south end of Tiananmen: From now on, Moscow and Beijing will be part of a "strategic partnership," to help create what China trumpets as a new world order.

Its immediate objective is to dissuade the United States from building an antimissile defence shield that might give Washington the power to blow other countries' nuclear missiles out of the sky. But Mr. Jiang is also moving toward a larger agenda to enhance Beijing's influence on the international stage and curb, at least a little, what he sees as Washington's "hegemonic" impulses.

In an attempt to cement his legacy, Mr. Jiang is trying to build China's influence through a series of strategic partnerships. One of his key goals has been to calm the once-stormy relations with Russia, long seen by a billion Chinese as a threat on their northern and western borders.

In the past 18 months, Mr. Jiang has pushed through agreements to end border disputes with Russia, gone on a spree to buy Russian weapons and tried to convince Moscow that China and Russia can combine as a counterbalance to U.S. influence in the world.

Yesterday, once again, he urged the two countries, which dominate most of Asia, to "establish a new political and economic order."

Mr. Putin seemed to share the sentiment, declaring: "Our two countries presently share a common position on the global security balance."

In terms of commerce, however, which is China's paramount concern these days, the United States is its most important concern. Other than the old bomb shelters, one of the notable sights around Tiananmen Square is the golden arches of McDonald's. U.S. bombs aren't the threat, most Chinese will tell you, it's the economic reach of the United States in the form of everything from hamburgers to software to mobile-phone networks.

What the emerging alliance between Russia and China highlights is the fact that both countries are troubled by the United States's overarching powers, both in economic and military terms.

"What do you expect?" asked a Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Russia and China have never been easy friends. But they are united in the desire to keep America from becoming a completely dominant power, which is what it is becoming."

In a communiqué meant to stress their new partnership, Mr. Jiang and Mr. Putin criticized the United States for seeking an even more commanding lead over the world's nuclear powers with its proposed $60-billion (U.S.) missile shield. They repeated their arguments that the missile plan would upset decades of arms-control agreements that have prevented nuclear war.

"Implementing this plan will have the most grave, adverse consequences, not only for the security of Russia, China and other countries, but also for the security of the U.S. and global strategic stability," the joint communiqué said.

Coming from two nuclear powers whose relations during the Cold War were notoriously bitter, the joint attack on the missile plan is an indication of how deeply other countries are opposed to the proposal. Although there are still serious doubts it will even work -- the latest test this month was a flop -- the system would likely entail Washington building a continental missile system based in North America. Pentagon planners envision another missile shield for Southeast Asia and perhaps one based in the Mediterranean, regional shields dubbed Theatre Missile Defence.

Ostensibly, the shield is proposed as a defence against missile attacks launched from rogue states, including Iran, Iraq and North Korea. But it would also secure the United States as the the world's top military power, undercutting the clout of Russia and China.

Beijing believes it would further extend U.S. influence in Asia, and Chinese leaders are particularly incensed that Washington has not ruled out putting Taiwan under the missile umbrella. China claims Taiwan as sovereign territory and has vowed to invade it if the island declares independence.

Canada's Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, who has long opposed the missile-shield plan, is concerned that Washington may trigger an arms race.

"There's no doubt if the Americans go out and build it [the Chinese] are going to upgrade their arsenal," he said in a recent interview in Beijing.

Original article