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
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
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