Russia, China Bury the Hatchet - but How Far? Normalization Doesn't Mean They'll Put Together a Strategic Relationship Aimed at Counterbalancing NATO

By Garnett, Sherman | The Christian Science Monitor, May 7, 1997 | Go to article overview

Russia, China Bury the Hatchet - but How Far? Normalization Doesn't Mean They'll Put Together a Strategic Relationship Aimed at Counterbalancing NATO


Garnett, Sherman, The Christian Science Monitor


In the past several years, Russia and China have dramatically improved their relations.

At their recently completed summit meeting in Moscow, Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Jiang Zemin capped a year of intensive bilateral diplomacy by agreeing to deepen the Sino-Russian strategic partnership, reduce military forces on their border, and stand together on key international issues. Their joint statement takes a swipe at US attempts "to monopolize" international affairs and "to expand and strengthen military blocs" like NATO.

Some observers claim that such words are further evidence that US support for NATO expansion is driving these two mega-states closer together, creating a potential counterbalance to an enlarged Western alliance. Simply normalization But Russia and China have not formed an effective strategic partnership. All they have accomplished to date is a long overdue normalization of a relationship that had seriously deteriorated in the late 1960s - to the point of massive arms buildups and violent border clashes. The key accomplishments include basic settlement of long-standing border disputes, expanded bilateral trade, and a reduction in military confrontation along the old Sino-Soviet border. The two countries are burdened with complex problems at home and different ambitions abroad. China is managing a growing economy and a huge population at a time of generational change in the government in Beijing. Its major foreign policy preoccupations are in Asia, not in Europe. In fact, many of China's Russia-watchers are glad to have NATO enlargement as an irritant in US-Russian relations. It makes the kind of US-Russian cooperation feared by Beijing in the early 1990s unlikely. During hours of talks in Beijing in January, I met no Chinese official or analyst who thought Russia could directly help China in Asia or who believed the Chinese government would seriously intervene in support of Russia in European affairs. Russia's economy is still weak. Mr. Yeltsin, who has himself only recently returned from months of convalescence, observed in March that "lack of responsibility and incompetence" remain the hallmarks of state power. The military is in shambles, yet it is engaged in various trouble spots throughout the former Soviet Union. It is facing the prospect of NATO expansion in Europe. And it is in no better shape in Asia. The main obstacle to Sino-Russian strategic cooperation is the potential for future problems within the bilateral relationship itself.

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