China and Soviet Union Improve Military Ties Each Seeks Access to Technology, Expertise to Boost Modernization Drives

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A HIGH-LEVEL military delegation from China returns from the Soviet Union this week after holding the most substantive talks on cooperation between the two armies in decades.

The Soviets hope to learn from the success of their Asian neighbor in turning its mammoth arms industry into a lucrative producer for consumer goods, say East European and Western diplomats.

The Chinese hope to sidestep an arms embargo with the West and gain access to Soviet weapons technology. Beijing has been eager to find other sources of high-tech military equipment since the West imposed sanctions on weapons sales after the massacre of pro-democracy protesters last June, the diplomats say.

Frustrated by the import ban, Beijing canceled what would have been its biggest military purchase from the United States - a $256.8 million deal to modernize jet fighters with the Grumman Corporation.

The lineup of China's military delegation in Moscow substantiates the view that Beijing sees the Soviet arsenal as a high-tech trove. Leading the group is Liu Huaqing, vice chairman of the paramount Central Military Commission and considered very knowledgeable about sophisticated weaponry. General Liu is accompanied by high-level officials concerned with aerospace, trade, and high-tech equipment.

The People's Liberation Army could use Soviet technology to improve its equipment and weaponry, from combat boots to jet fighters. China is also keen on tapping Soviet expertise for its crude but successful space program, the diplomats say.

Beijing would confront obstacles, however, if it tried to renovate its arms with Soviet know-how. It has scant hard currency for major purchases and the Soviets may not agree to the low prices China requires. A "guns-for-butter" barter deal would sidestep these impediments, according to the diplomats.

"Soviet stores lack almost every kind of consumer good - no refrigerators, no televisions, no thermoses, no fans - but Moscow has some fine weapons that it could barter away for Chinese things which would make Soviet citizens very happy," says an East European diplomat. …