Sino-Russian summit sealed with a kiss

Yeltsin in Peking: New era of co-operation hailed
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The Independent Online
Not many visiting male statesmen, or indeed women, are bold enough to hug the Chinese president. But in the spirit of fraternal relations, Boris Yeltsin yesterday wrapped his arms around his equally portly host, lips straining in an apparent attempt to plant a big kiss on Jiang Zemin's right cheek.

Mr Jiang may not have been expecting such ardour, but the Chinese government had laid on the full works for the Russian President. From the moment Mr Yeltsin stepped off the aircraft the red carpet was waiting - in seemingly unending quantity.

At the official welcoming ceremony in the Great Hall of the People, Mr Yeltsin was flanked by a full military guard of honour, and broad grins were on everyone's faces. Mr Jiang said they were "old friends", before leading his guest to the first of two state banquets. On Tuesday, Mr Yeltsin had declared: "Today, there are no problems of a political nature between Russia and China."

The Russian President's three-day visit sets the seal on improved Sino- Russian relations over the past five years. The Russians have come in force; more than 350 were in Mr Yeltsin's party.

Today, a political declaration will be signed by the two presidents, and a range of agreements on economic co- operation between the former Cold War foes will cover topics from manned space flights to nuclear power and fighting crime.

Tomorrow, in Shanghai, Mr Yeltsin, Mr Jiang and the presidents of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will conclude a border confidence building agreement aimed at reducing military tensions.

Yesterday, security in Peking was noticeably tighter, with additional soldiers posted outside the embassy compounds, and large numbers of police along the roads destined for Mr Yeltsin's convoy. Tiananmen Square had also been cleared of people for the late afternoon welcoming ceremony.

Over the previous 24 hours, the Xinhua news agency had set the tone for the visit by churning out a stream of reports on the warmth of relations between China and Russia. Border troops now exchange holiday greetings, it said. And in the north-eastern province of Heilongjiang, students were clamouring to study Russian.

Sino-Russian trade will be a centre-point of discussions, with dozens of Russian businessmen due to fly to Shanghai for tomorrow's arrival of Mr Yeltsin.

Peking views its northern neighbour as a supplier of raw materials and military hardware, while Russia's traders yearn to break into the vast market of China. There is considerable room for bilateral trade to improve. According to Chinese figures, two-way trade reached $7bn (pounds 4.6bn) in 1993, but last year had dropped to $5.5bn (pounds 3.6bn).

Yesterday, in Peking's "Russian market", a lively line of stalls along the west side of Ritan Park, independent traders from the former Soviet republics were loading huge sackloads of Chinese clothes on to tricycle rickshaws, on the first stage of a profitable journey home. Three cargo planes a day leave Tianjin airport, east of Peking, destined for Russia.

As they bargained ferociously, there was little interest among the Russian entrepreneurs in the fact that their president was in town. "I was here before Yeltsin became president and hope I will be here long after he is gone," said a former engineer from Khabarovsk, whose Sino-Russian negotiations centred on a bulk purchase of shoes.