Kremlin and China hail ties of friendship toast new friendship

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The Independent Online
The Presidents of Russia and China yesterday hailed a new "strategic partnership" to take their countries into the 21st century with a champagne toast. In a day marked by mutual declarations of support over difficult international issues, President Jiang Zemin bolstered Boris Yeltsin's opposition to the eastern expansion of Nato, while Russia's President backed China over Taiwan and Tibet.

After a two-hour summit meeting, Mr Yeltsin said Mr Jiang "resolutely joined Russia's view that Nato's expansion toward its borders is impermissible". The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Shen Guofang, later quoted China's President as expressing "his understanding and support for the Russian position on this question." He quoted Mr Jiang as saying: "The expansion of military alliance in the post-Cold-War era would not serve the interests of all, and is not consistent with the trend of the times."

Previously, China has said the question of Nato's extension was only of concern to the parties involved.

The signing by the presidents of a third Joint Statement between the two countries in the Great Hall of the People appears to mark the warmest period of Sino-Russian relations since the early days of the Chinese People's Republic.

Mr Yeltsin said: "I can't name a single question on which we would have different opinions." Mr Jiang was equally fulsome. "Sino-Russian friendly relations have entered into a new age," he said.

Both countries deny they are forming an alliance. But a successful visit at this time is clearly in the interests of both presidents. Mr Yeltsin faces elections in June at home, while China is at loggerheads with the United States on several issues. Yesterday's Sino-Russian political declaration, in a pointed reference to the West and to Washington in particular, warned: "Hegemonism, power politics and repeated imposition of pressure on other countries have continued to occur. Bloc politics has taken up new manifestations. World peace and development still face serious challenges."

In order not to let details spoil the atmosphere, both sides sidestepped the fact that China is still at odds with the other nuclear powers over the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Mr Yeltsin said China had agreed to reach an agreement on a complete end to nuclear tests by the end of the year. However, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, while not contradicting the Russian President, made it clear Peking still believed "peaceful nuclear explosions" should be excluded from the treaty.

"As for peaceful explosions, it is clear China has its own position, but I also see scholars and experts do not see eye to eye on this subject either. Therefore there should be further discussions in this regard," Mr Shen said. He would not say whether China would stop other tests when the treaty was signed, or at a later ratification date.

The two presidents agreed China and Russia will hold regular meetings and a telephone "hot-line" would be set up between Moscow and Peking. Plans for a hot-line between Peking and Washington are no longer under discussion, said the Foreign Ministry spokesman.

There was also a mutual desire to speed up negotiations on the reduction of military forces along the 4,300km border. The common border would be one of "peace, tranquillity, friendship and good-neighbourliness", said the joint statement.

Mr Yeltsin said Russia fully adhered to a "One-China" policy, would not establish official ties with Taiwan, and offered a "firm, resolute and clear-cut" position on Tibet being part of China. In return, Mr Jiang said the question of Chechnya was a "domestic affair" of Russia. He also backed Russia's wish for admission to the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation body.

Widespread economic links were promised, covering nuclear energy, machine building, aviation, space, agriculture, communications and high technology. However, there was no mention of any agreement over sales of military equipment.