China seeks helpful ties with Russia Summit to lay ideology aside

December 15, 1992|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau

BEIJING -- Only a little more than a year ago, when Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin oversaw the fall of the Communist Party in the former Soviet Union, he was hated and distrusted in official circles here.

But in a summit meeting this week, Chinese leaders and Mr. Yeltsin will lay aside their sharp ideological differences.

During Mr. Yeltsin's three-day visit to China beginning Thursday, pragmatic common interests -- trade expansion, border stability and weapons deals between the two nations -- will take precedence.

"One of the main features of the new relations between Russia and China is that they are and will be free of ideology," Igor A. Rogachev, the Russian ambassador to China, said yesterday. "We have agreed to noninterference in each other's internal affairs. . . . With China, we have now absolutely no big serious problems."

Visiting Moscow last month, Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen offered the same formula.

"China has always insisted that ideological differences should not become an obstacle in developing relations. . . . Confronting each other will do no good to the situation," he said in an interview in the official Beijing Review magazine.

Chinese leaders have quickly reached this accommodation with Mr. Yeltsin because, more than anything else, they want stability along China's long border with Russia.

Challenges in Moscow to Mr. Yeltsin's power worry them, as does the fighting in Tajikistan, which borders China's Xinjiang region, where an Islamic minority has resisted Chinese rule.

China and Russia also are greatly benefiting from their rapidly expanding trade links and from the Russian fire sale of weapons and military technology.

Significantly, the two countries are settling long-standing border disputes. The Russian Embassy announced yesterday that they had agreed last month to reduce the number of troops along the border and to set up a military "stability zone" 120 miles deep on each side by the end of the decade.

Mr. Yeltsin's visit probably will overshadow the arrival tomorrow of Commerce Secretary Barbara H. Franklin and several dozen other U.S. officials, a three-day visit aimed at normalizing economic ties.

Ms. Franklin is to attend a meeting of a bilateral commerce commission, the first time the group will have met since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. She also was to announce a supercomputer sale to China, but that reportedly has been postponed following reports that China sold missile components Pakistan.

Meanwhile, President-elect Bill Clinton said he did not think it would be necessary to revoke China's most-favored-nation trading status if it continued to make progress on human rights and other issues.

"I don't want to isolate China for political and economic reasons, I don't want to dislocate any industries here," he told his economic conference yesterday.

"But I do think in the aftermath of Tiananmen Square . . . that we have an obligation to at least continue to be consistent about the things in which we believe."

The summit meeting with Russia has sparked speculation that China is trying to revive the triangular geopolitics of the Cold War by moving closer to Russia to offset its strained relations with the United States -- a move that Mr. Rogachev denied.

"The Cold War is over," he said. "We hope that no one will be playing any cards in the future. We are not going to play the Chinese card against anyone else, and we hope the Chinese are not going to play the Russian card or the American card or any card. We hope Chinese relations with Western countries will be normal."

But Russian arms sales to China this year have raised concerns in the West and among Southeast Asian nations, which feel increasingly vulnerable as China acquires the ability to project its military power in the region. There are fears of a Southeast Asian arms race.

Military sales to China are "an integral part of our government relations," Mr. Rogachev said.

Russia has promised not to sell weapons to Taiwan.

Trade between Russia and China also is booming, with Russia largely supplying industrial and high-technology goods in exchange for badly needed Chinese consumer goods and food. This year, bilateral trade may total $5 billion, almost reaching the 1990 record between the entire former Soviet Union and China.

During Mr. Yeltsin's visit, the two countries will sign agreements expanding their border crossings and setting up economic cooperation zones and joint industrial projects, including a Russian-built nuclear power plant in China.

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