M O S C O W, July 16, 2001 -- Russia and China signed their first friendshiptreaty in more than a half century today, promising to "remainfriends forever" while stressing their partnership was not amilitary alliance aimed against third countries.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpartJiang Zemin also reiterated their opposition to Washington's plansto deploy a missile defense shield, but their careful languagesuggested both were looking for a way out of confrontation with theUnited States.
The Bush administration said the new friendship pact posed noparticular threat to the United States. "They have a long borderin the region, and it's important for them to get along," StateDepartment spokesman Richard Boucher said today in Washington.
Jiang's arrival in Moscow on Sunday followed the United States' successfultest of a missile interceptor — a step forward in Washington'squest to build a missile defense system.
Neither Jiang nor Putin commented on the test, or on thePentagon's plans to start building a new missile defense test rangein Alaska.
But in a statement, the two leaders reasserted that theAnti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, signed by the Soviet Union and theUnited States in 1972, was a "cornerstone of strategic stability"that must be preserved.
Rivalry Began in 1960s
The post-Soviet friendship treaty signed today is the firstsince 1950, when Josef Stalin and Mao Tse-tung created aSoviet-Chinese alliance — a friendship that slid into rivalry andthen hostility in the 1960s. Since the collapse of the Soviet Unionin 1991, Moscow and Beijing have tried to put the strife behindthem and forged what they call a "strategic partnership."
Russia and China, which have vastly different nuclearcapabilities, both warn the proposed U.S. missile shield could tiltthe strategic balance and trigger a new arms race.
Still, their failure to address the latest U.S. missile testsuggests the two countries do not view Washington's plans quite thesame way.
"Both Russia and China realize that Washington has already madeits choice, and instead of bluntly opposing the U.S. missiledefense they had better bargain for some concessions," saidYevgeny Volk, head of the Heritage Foundation's Moscow office.
Putin and Jiang pledged in a joint statement that theircountries will "remain friends forever and never become enemies."And the treaty emphasized that the two nations were not forming amilitary pact.
"The military and military-technical cooperation between thetwo countries … is not directed against third countries," itsaid.
As part of its military buildup, China has already boughtbillions of dollars worth of Russian fighter jets, submarines,missiles and destroyers during the 1990s, becoming the biggestcustomer for Russia's ailing military industrial complex. It hasconcentrated on amassing tactical, not strategic, weapons.
While arms sales boomed, other trade has grown slowly.
Prospects for Increased Trade
The two nations' overall trade volume was $8 billion last yearand $3.8 billion in January-May 2001 — dwarfed by China's $115billion annual trade with the United States. Russian energycompanies and airline makers are losing ground in the Chinesemarket to Western competitors.
"Russia accounts for just 2 percent of China's trade, but thatmeans that we have good prospects," Putin said, promising thateconomic ties would develop momentum. He and Jiang agreed to expandcooperation in the sphere of oil and gas, energy, aircraftbuilding, communications and new technologies.
Despite the talk of partnership, some analysts have pointed tounderlying tensions between Moscow and Beijing.
Some in Russia have voiced concern about Chinese migrantsoverrunning Russia's sparsely populated Far Eastern and Siberianregions, which China has claimed for centuries.
Even though the treaty said Russia and China had no territorialclaims against each other, the two leaders acknowledged theircountries still disagree on some islands on the Amur River, whichruns between them. Rivalry over islands in the Ussuri River led tofighting and dozens of casualties in the late 1960s.
Putin and Jiang both tried to downplay border tensions,promising they would be resolved soon.
"I feel optimistic about solving these issues," Jiang said."We shall do all we can," he added in Russian, smiling.
To further advance bilateral ties, Putin accepted Jiang'sinvitation to visit China at an unspecified date next year.