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    Central Asia
     Mar 31, 2007
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US shadow over China-Russia ties
By M K Bhadrakumar

On March 22, even as Chinese President Hu Jintao was preparing to leave on a state visit to Russia, an unusual visitor arrived in Beijing. Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, was embarking on a four-day official tour of China.

Beijing lost no time signaling how pleased it was over the latest indication of the warming ties between the armed forces of the two countries. Receiving Pace within hours of his arrival, Guo Boxiong, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), China's top military authority, said, "The current China-US

military ties are not easy to come by, thus the two sides should treasure it." Guo ranks second to chairman Hu in the 11-member CMC.

But no less lacking in political symbolism was the immaculate timing of the announcement by US computer-chip giant Intel on Monday, even as Hu was arriving in Moscow, that it would build a US$2.5 billion semi-conductor plant in Dalian, China's northeastern port city.

China secured the bid in the teeth of competition from India and Israel. The Intel plant, expected to become operational in 2010, is expected to provide jobs, training, logistics and other services worth $15.4 billion to China's backward Liaoning province. It will use 90-nanometer technology, an advanced method of computer-chip-making, which will overnight catapult China on to the cutting edge of the global semiconductor-manufacturing industry.

If timing has a place and meaning in diplomacy, the two developments in Beijing over the weekend provided an apt scene setter for Hu's state visit to Russia on March 26-28.

China's foreign-policy priorities are moving further away from the heyday of the Sino-Russian strategic partnership circa 2006. The triangular equations involving the United States, China and Russia are once again casting shadows on the Moscow-Beijing axis. To what degree Washington has engineered this shift in Beijing as a matter of its geostrategy for the New American Century it is hard to tell, but it coincides with the 35th anniversary of the late US president Richard Nixon's path-breaking visit to China.

In Beijing, at least, as the People's Daily commented recently, "Nixon's handshake of 35 years ago continues to be felt as China and the United States continue to explore new possibilities for their relationship in a vastly different world."

Indeed, no sooner than Hu concluded the last leg of his visit to Russia, and emplaned for Beijing from the Tataristan capital Kazan, US President George W Bush put a telephone call through to the Kremlin. Bush conveyed to President Vladimir Putin that Washington is ready to discuss in detail US plans to deploy parts of its missile-defense system in Central Europe. Bush and Putin agreed that Washington and Moscow should hold regular dialogue on this contentious issue in US-Russian relations at all levels.

Bush would have noted that the exhaustive Russia-China joint statement issued in Moscow on Monday after Hu's talks with Putin at the Kremlin failed to refer to the single most critical issue affecting Russian foreign policy at the moment, namely the US plans regarding the deployment of its missile-defense system.

The Kremlin also seems to realize the limits to the Russia-China strategic partnership by choosing to release in Moscow its long-awaited "Russian Federation Foreign Policy Survey" on Tuesday when Hu was still on Russian soil. Moscow was all but suggesting that there is life beyond Chinese friendship for Russia's foreign policy.

On the missile-defense controversy, the Russian foreign-policy document says, "The appearance of a US missile-defense base in Europe would represent a reconfiguration of America's military presence in Europe and the formation of a strategic component that could negatively affect Russia's nuclear deterrent potential." Yet on such a crucial issue affecting Russian interests (and world peace), while major European countries have spoken out, China keeps mum.

Energy cooperation
Arguably, Hu's state visit to Russia should have taken place once the incipient transition of the contemporary stage of world development gained clarity. But then the visit was linked to the time-bound gala Moscow opening of the "Year of China in Russia" on March 28, and it had to be dutifully undertaken. Beijing did the next best thing under the circumstances by thrusting the economic content of Sino-Russian relations to the forefront of Hu's agenda in Moscow.

But even then there wasn't much to showcase. An energy deal for increased Russian supplies by 3 million tons of oil to China via the Naushki border checkpoint was billed as a key agreement to be signed during Hu's visit. The deal is important as Russia's performance in energy cooperation has been sagging. Russia contracted to supply 15 million tons of oil to China in 2006, but managed to supply only 10.3 million tons.

But for reasons unclear, the signing of the agreement was put off "indefinitely" at the last minute. Energy cooperation was thought to be a core sector of the Russia-China strategic partnership. Is it

Continued 1 2

Beijing-Moscow agreements to boost trade (Mar 28, '07)

Hu's trip to Russia: Without love, but ... (Mar 27, '07)

China begins to define the rules (Jan 20, '07)


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