China, Russia discuss friendship agreement

Plans indicate unease at U.S. influence, missile defense, observers say

January 14, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BEIJING - China and Russia are working on a treaty proclaiming friendship, the strongest sign yet of their shared unhappiness with the supremacy of the United States and its plans to build a shield against ballistic missiles.

There is no sign that China and Russia plan to ally, with mutual pledges of aid in time of war, Chinese and Western scholars and diplomats said.

The countries have privately reassured U.S. officials that they still seek close ties with the United States, which offers them greater economic and technological advantages than they offer each other.

But the effort to craft a "strategic partnership," as the Chinese describe it, reflects the intensity of the two nations' concerns about U.S. global power and the proposal for a national missile defense system, which Russia and China fear will put them at a military disadvantage.

It is a tangible sign of the changing and complex landscape that will face the Bush administration, which has vowed to increase defense spending, forge ahead with missile defenses and treat China as a competitor. "When two major powers share an identical view that the United States is the biggest threat to global security and their own security, of course the United States has to be concerned," said David Shambaugh, a political expert at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and the Brookings Institution.

Chinese-Russian border disputes have been settled, and each side gains when Russia sells jet fighters, naval destroyers and other high-tech military goods to China.

But with Russia's economy floundering, trade has not blossomed, and the two countries remain wary neighbors.

Last year, Chinese and Russian leaders made joint statements of protest against U.S. plans for missile defenses, calling them destabilizing.

Both countries have expressed concern about the expansion of NATO and vehemently opposed the alliance's airstrikes on Yugoslavia in 1999.

Last year, they began discussing a general statement of amity.

Since meetings last month, they have begun studying proposed treaty language, Chinese officials told Western scholars.

The proposed contents have not been disclosed, but beyond a general statement of shared goals, possible subjects include arms sales, economic ties, cooperation in space and the shared border that has seen conflict in the past, scholars said.

A document may be signed later this year when Chinese President Jiang Zemin visits Moscow.

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