Yeltsin courts new friend in the East

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The Independent Online
The Chinese leader, Jiang Zemin, arrived in Moscow yesterday for a visit which is intended not only to improve relations between Moscow and Peking but also to show the West that Russia, unable to stop Nato expansion, is capable of finding friends elsewhere.

China, which used to compete with the Soviet Union for domination of the Communist world, is happy to play the game with the new Russia for economic reasons and because it dislikes Western criticism of its human rights record.

The red carpet was rolled out yesterday when President Jiang, accompanied by his wife and by senior Chinese officials, arrived at Vnukovo-2, the airport for VIPs on the edge of Moscow. Mr Jiang will hold meetings with President Boris Yeltsin today.

He was met by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, just back from Prague where he heard the Czechs, former subjects of the Warsaw Pact, saying politely but firmly that they regarded Nato membership as vital to their national security.

Even after last month's Helsinki summit, when President Bill Clinton sought to reassure Russia that the West was not trying to isolate it, the Kremlin has continued to object to the eastward expansion of Nato and pointedly develop other relationships. First Mr Yeltsin, to the alarm of his liberal advisers, moved closer to a union with politically repressive and economically backward Belarus. Now he is turning his attention to China.

Long before Nato announced plans to expand, the then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev healed the rift between the two giants of the east by visiting Peking shortly before the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Mr Yeltsin also travelled there last year, advised by his Foreign Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, that Russia should not concentrate on ties with the West to the exclusion of other friendships.

The Russians and the Chinese have many areas of mutual interest. This week, Mr Yeltsin and Mr Jiang will sign a treaty, together with the leaders of three former Soviet republics - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan - on the reduction of armed forces along the former Soviet-Chinese border. In trade talks, Russia will try to sell more arms to China and persuade the Chinese to raise the quality of the consumer goods they sell on the Russian market.

But a political declaration which Mr Yeltsin and Mr Jiang plan to sign is clearly intended to challenge America's dominant role in the world since the collapse of Soviet Communism and the end of the Cold War.

"Russia and China will express their vision of how to form the new international order in the 21st century and will speak out against claims by any country to the role of absolute leader," Mr Yeltsin's spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said.

The Chinese ambassador to Moscow, Li Fenglin, added: "This new type of relationship includes a refusal to take part in military blocs, ruling out confrontation and any menace to third parties."