As pace of rapprochement quickens, China offers Soviets 'commodity loans'

March 01, 1991|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau of The Sun

BEIJING -- In a reversal of their historic roles, China -- the recipient of massive aid from the Soviet Union before the two nations' bitter estrangement in 1960 -- is now offering to help the troubled Soviet economy with "commodity loans."

The offer of the loans this week is only one example of the recently increased pace of Sino-Soviet rapprochement, which began with the renewal of official relations during Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's visit almost two years ago.

Next week, during a visit by Soviet Defense Minister Dmitry T. Yazov, the two Communist giants are expected to take another step toward closer ties by sealing an arms deal in which the Soviet Union would earn badly needed cash by selling China a dozen Su-27 fighter jets and possibly other military technology.

This will be followed within months -- perhaps as soon as mid-May, a Soviet Embassy source said -- by a Moscow visit by Chinese Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin.

Another official visit -- this one by a high-ranking Soviet Communist Party official to Beijing this week -- was aimed at preparing for Mr. Jiang's journey to Moscow. But China took the opportunity to sweeten its reborn relationship with the Soviets by announcing the aid offer.

Chinese reports on the loans did not specify the commodities, nor would a Foreign Ministry spokesman elaborate on the deal, but the loans represent a decided reversal of economic fortunes for the two nations.

An isolated and impoverished China relied heavily on Soviet aid in the 1950s, and the Chinese have long harbored bitterness over the abrupt Soviet pullout over an ideological dispute. Now one of China's biggest economic problems is too-rapid growth, while the Soviet Union is widely considered to be close to economic collapse.

Sino-Soviet economic cooperation is increasing in other ways as well. A newly forged rail link in China's far western Xinjiang Autonomous Region, originally planned in the 1950s, will soon link China's east coast with Western Europe through the Soviet Union. Chinese grain sales to the Soviets are under consideration. A duty-free trade zone is planned on the northeastern border.

Border tensions, the source of military skirmishes in 1969, also have been greatly reduced by joint remapping efforts and are expected to be further lessened as a result of troop-reduction talks during the Soviet defense minister's visit. But the anticipated sale of the relatively sophisticated fighter jets to the Chinese is likely to raise tensions between mainland China and Taiwan.

Although Chinese officials in private documents reportedly have labeled Mr. Gorbachev "a traitor" for his attempts at political reforms and for the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the Persian Gulf crisis has underscored anew a key basis for the renewed Sino-Soviet relationship: a common fear of world domination by the United States.

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