Yeltsin shakes hands with China

Russia and China, closer now than at any time since the doomed Sino-Soviet alliance of the 1950s, yesterday issued a joint declaration on strategic co-operation for the 21st century. They denied they were uniting against any particular country but, in calling for a "multi polar world" in which no nation played a dominant role, they clearly implied criticism of the United States, the only remaining superpower.

The historic agreement was signed when the Chinese president Jiang Zemin met Boris Yeltsin in the gilded hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace. "We have not signed such a document with any other country," said Mr Yeltsin, who has been trying to diversify Russian foreign policy since failing to persuade Nato against the need for eastward expansion.

President Yeltsin and his guest from Peking expressed their "concern over the attempt at enlarging and strengthening military blocks because such a tendency may ... aggravate regional and global tension".

Instead of this, their declaration said, it was time for a new world order. "The Cold War has ended. The bipolar system has ceased to exist. The positive trend towards a multipolar world is accelerating. All countries, big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, are equal members of the international community. No country should seek hegemony, practise power politics or monopolise international affairs."

The extracts of the document which were made available to the press contained few concrete details on how to achieve this goal. But the two presidents stressed the importance of the UN and also called for continuing disarmament.

Today, with the leaders of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, they will sign a treaty cutting armed forces along the former Soviet-Chinese frontier.

It was here, 28 years ago, that relations between the two Communist giants reached rock bottom. After Stalin and Mao had worked together in the 1950s, supporting North Korea in its war with the South, the Soviet Union and China became bitter ideological foes in the 1960s.

But Mikhail Gorbachev healed the rift by visiting Peking in 1989 and relations have been steadily warming since. Russia, which has had more success reforming itself politically than economically, is fascinated by China, which has made an economic breakthrough while leaving its monolithic Communist system more or less intact.

The Kremlin hopes to use this week's visit by President Jiang to show the West that, since Nato insists on expanding against its wishes, Russia has no choice but to widen its friendships.

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