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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia, China HopeTo Boost Trade Ties

BEIJING -- In the 1950s, Russians dominated this city, helping the newly established Communist government with everything from building bridges to organizing universities. Then, after China and the Soviet Union split in 1960, the Russians were thrown out and 30 years of chilly relations set in.


Recently the Russians have returned to Beijing, but this time as small-time traders and smugglers hoping to make a few rubles by shipping low-cost Chinese products back to Moscow.


Enter Boris Yeltsin. The Russian president visits China for three days this week hoping to push relations between two of the world's biggest and most populous nations beyond the level of curbside vendors.


While neither side anticipates a return to the chummy days of the 1950s, both want to show the West they have other friends who don't always lecture them on how their countries should be run.


China feels battered by U.S. criticism of its human rights records and trade practices. Moscow resents U.S. dominance of the peace process in Bosnia, criticism of its war in Chechnya and Western military alliances in Europe perceived as an effort to contain Russia.


In many other ways, Russia is constantly being reminded of the expectations accompanying the West's embrace since the collapse of the Soviet empire.


"The Chinese and the Russians are trying to develop a diversified strategy," said Jonathan Pollack, a senior adviser at the Rand Corp.


"It's far from being lovey-dovey, but it's a big change from the past."


China has started touting Russia as a model partner of sorts, despite the two countries' different systems -- Russia has started down the road to democracy and capitalism while China adheres, on paper at least, to socialism and communism.


Russia scrupulously avoids criticism of China's record on human rights or its policy toward Taiwan. Last year, Russia was instrumental in killing a UN censure of China's human rights policies.


China also is grateful for Russian support of controversial technical projects. Russia has sent 4,000 experts to China since 1992 to help develop industries and may help China build a nuclear power station.


Russian companies are expected to help build the gargantuan Three Gorges dam and power stations, which some Western countries have boycotted because of environmental problems.


By contrast, China regards the United States as a wealthy meddler, able to provide the best technology but also sticking its nose into internal matters such as human rights.


Both sides contend, however, that the improving relations are not aimed at the West.


"If China says, 'Look, we have different systems, but we have good relations with Russia,' then it's their right," said a senior Russian diplomat based in Beijing. "But it's not playing the Russia card, and we are not playing the China card."


Foremost on Yeltsin's agenda will be trade. The two nations exchanged goods and services valued at just $5.5 billion last year, compared with $40 billion between the United States and China.


Although Russia has the vast natural resources China needs, and China has the entrepreneurial agility lacking in Russia, neither has the money for large-scale investments.


To date, Russia's biggest sales have been military, with China buying modern fighters and submarines.


Although trade will be talked up in the form of numerous agreements to be signed, political problems are likely to receive the most concrete action.


Their 2,700-mile border, where China and Russia fought a costly war in 1969, will be further stabilized when Yeltsin, Chinese President Jiang Zemin and the leaders of three other neighboring countries -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan -- sign a confidence-building pact.


The five nations will agree to pull back large military units from the border, limit the amount of live ammunition they can use in war games and not engage in war games directly on the border.


The visit is Yeltsin's second since taking power in 1991. His 1992 visit came just a year after he put down an attempted coup and declared that communism was dead.