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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Jiang Visit to Strengthen Ties

A year after announcing a "strategic partnership for the 21st century," the leaders of Russia and China will sign a key border agreement in Moscow next week and discuss ambitious joint projects, as the Kremlin seeks to forge new bonds with its eastern neighbors.

Russian foreign policy has undergone an eastward shift since former spymaster Yevgeny Primakov, an eastern expert, was appointed foreign minister in January 1996.

But while it may consolidate the new rapprochement, Chinese President Jiang Zemin's two-day visit beginning Tuesday does not herald an alliance to counteract the power of the United States and NATO, Russian analysts said.

Jiang is scheduled to sign an agreement reducing troop deployments along China's border with Russia and the former Soviet states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in Central Asia.

Jiang and President Boris Yeltsin are also due to sign a joint political declaration on the "multi-polar world," setting out their views on the optimum global conditions for their development.

"Russia is looking for strong new partners to maintain a balance of powers in the world," commented Irina Kobrenskaya, a political analyst at the Moscow branch of the Carnegie Endowment, an international think tank.

The Chinese-Russian rapprochement "is not just a response to NATO expansion," she said. "Russia is refocusing its foreign policy on Asia to have room to manoeuvre."

"In Europe, Russia can only seek improved cooperation, but Asia is in a state of flux, and Russia can play a more active role there -- for example, in defining new security arrangements," she said.

Leonid Moiseyev, deputy head of the Russian foreign ministry's First Asia Department, said the improvement in Chinese-Russian ties began with then-Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev's visit to Beijing in May 1989, "when NATO expansion was not yet an issue."

Russia has become China's biggest arms supplier since the two former rivals for leadership of the communist world officially patched up their ideological rift in 1989.

Russia has signed contracts to supply China with 72 Sukhoi Su-27 fighter planes, the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system and two destroyers equipped with missile launchers.

Speaking in Beijing on Tuesday, Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov stressed that the arms sales were in line with international arms control agreements, and were "not aimed at any third country."

Rodionov said Russia was opposed to -estern countries using human rights issues as an excuse to exert influence over China.

Western countries imposed an arms embargo after the Chinese leadership's crackdown on democracy activists in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

Moiseyev recalled that the Soviet Union built up China's armed forces in the 1950s, and Moscow and Beijing had a long history of military cooperation.

"In 1992 to 1994 there was hardly any funding for Russia's military industries. Then China was virtually the only country offering to buy our arms on terms favorable to us, and to some extent Chinese orders kept our military enterprises going," he said.

Last year Chinese-Russian trade turnover reached nearly $7 billion, but Yeltsin has set a target of 20 billion by the year 2000.

Russia is negotiating major energy deals with China, including the construction of a nuclear power station, involvement in the giant Three Gorges hydroelectric project on the upper Yangtze River and plans to deliver oil and gas to China by pipeline from largely untapped reserves in Siberia.

The pipeline projects would be too expensive for Russia and China to develop alone, and extra investment would be needed from other countries, Kobrenskaya said.

Border trade is flourishing between Russia and China, but much of it is unregulated and both sides need to boost cooperation to decriminalize it, she added.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin expects "positive results" from a visit to Russia next week that will set the seal on improved ties between the two giant neighbors, Reuters reported Thursday, citing Itar-Tass.

"I am deeply convinced that my trip to Moscow will be crowned with positive results," Itar-Tass quoted Jiang as saying.

Jiang also dismissed as "nonsense" Western claims that China posed a threat to other countries and said Beijing's top priority was economic growth.

"The assertions of some Western scholars that China, building up its muscles, will create a threat for other countries ... is nonsense," he told Itar-Tass.

"China is concentrating its efforts on the development of its economy, on the long-term improvement of its people's standard of living," Jiang added.