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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Aims to Open China Trade Barriers

Fast on the heels of a friendly summit with Japan, the Kremlin is turning its sights again to Asian giant China, where President Boris Yeltsin travels Sunday to lobby for Russian business and seal a historic border treaty.

In a news conference with Chinese Ambassador Li Fenqlin, Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said Tuesday that Yeltsin aims to open direct trade ties between China and Russia's regions, particularly timber- and energy-rich Siberia.

"The priority is on how to remove trade barriers, on how to increase trade," Yastrzhembsky said. "Relations with the East are equally important to Russia as those with the West."

Yeltsin's fifth summit with Chinese President Jiang Zemin coincides with a whirlwind of diplomacy among the world's most powerful leaders. Yeltsin, hoping to stretch Russia's influence further into East Asia, last weekend completed a confidence-building summit with Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.

Jiang on Tuesday finished a nine-day tour of the United States. While hounded by human rights protestors on most stops, Jiang signed an agreement on a "constructive strategic partnership" that will let U.S. companies enter China's burgeoning nuclear energy market. By some estimates, China will spend $60 billion to $80 billion developing nuclear plants during the next 20 years.

Yastrzhembsky said Beijing's human rights record is "an internal item for China. It is not the priority of the Russian-Chinese agenda for this month. ... Between friends, there is no room for questions that are not subject to discussion."

The Kremlin has sought to play down any concerns it has about strengthening ties between Beijing and Washington. "The Kremlin is not thinking about the White House when it schedules state visits," Yastrzhembsky said. "This is a coincidence."

Still, he added in an allusion to the United States, Russia refuses to "enter a world dominated by a single power."

Russia hopes that a closer alliance with both China and Japan might act as a counterweight to Washington's growing influence in Eastern Europe and the Far East.

China, however, has kept its options open. In Moscow last spring, Jiang shied away Yeltsin's offer for the two neighbors to coordinate their future foreign policies. Instead, the two leaders pledged to build a "multipolar world."

One of Yeltsin's chief goals next Monday will be to sign a $3.2 billion deal to build a nuclear power plant at Lianyungang in northern China. He will also try to push along the construction of a gas pipeline linking energy reserves in Irkutsk with China.

The Chinese ambassador hinted Tuesday that Yeltsin's task might be less simple then originally thought.

"Russia has offered China some airplanes. But if even Aeroflot does not want those planes, you understand me, those planes have something wrong with them," Li said to the thundering laughter of journalists. Yastrzhembsky sat next to Li with his lips pursed.

"I would like to ask Russian businesses to approach trade with China from the perspective of world market conditions," Li added.

China has purchased Airbus aircraft from the European consortium and announced a deal during Jiang's U.S. visit to buy 50 Boeing airliners.

Russia is pulling no punches in its battle with Washington for the Chinese market.

Traveling with Yeltsin will be Russia's best business-diplomatic weapon, First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who in his relatively brief stint in Moscow has already done much to improve long-frozen relations with Japan.

The two will be assisted by Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who will then travel to directly to Tokyo to work out an agreement on joint naval exercises between Japan and Russia.

Yeltsin and Jiang will also will seal a long-sought agreement demarcating the two neighbors' 4,300-kilometer border.

Moscow and Beijing lived through three decades of bitter rivalry for leadership in the communist world that saw several border skirmishes. Russia's relations with China were normalized in 1989 when Mikhail Gorbachev visited Deng Xiaoping in Beijing.

Yeltsin and Jiang will also sign a protocol agreement on protecting the Siberian tiger.