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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Mending Ties With Old Ally Beijing

As the United States heats up its rhetoric about building a national missile defense shield, Russia and China are looking to patch up frayed ties by signing a friendship treaty this summer, their first since the 1950s.

But despite the two countries' eagerness to team up against the perceived U.S. threat, they will without a doubt refrain from committing themselves to a full-blown strategic alliance, defense observers said.

The Defense Ministry said late last week that the treaty, which will call for increased cooperation in developing military hardware and reiterate mutual opposition to the planned NMD, is being drafted for a signing this summer when Chinese leader Jiang Zemin visits Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin. Three visits between Putin and Zemin are planned for this year.

Discussion of the agreement dominated four days of closed-door meetings last week between Russia's top dogs and Zhang Wannian, deputy chairman of China's Central Military Council, the Military News Agency reported.

"We are not talking here about a memorandum on relations, but about the creation of a new state treaty on the principles of relations" between China and Russia, said Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov.

Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev was equally vague about the planned agreement, saying that "a memorandum of mutual understanding" covering trade and arms issues was in the works.

Wannian, who wrapped up his visit Thursday, only said that Russia and China continued to oppose U.S. plans to develop and deploy the NMD.

A Defense Ministry official confirmed Thursday that a memorandum over military-technical cooperation would be signed during Zemin's visit but said he was unaware of any plans to sign a full-fledged defense treaty. He would not elaborate.

Defense experts said the treaty being drafted would not contain pledges to build a strategic alliance or provide direct military aid to each other in case of war — even if the NMD is deployed.

"China is a cat that walks by itself. It is a self-sufficient-minded country that agrees only to tactical alliances," said Ivan Safranchuk of the Center for Policy Studies.

Russian leaders have publicly floated the idea of building a "strategic triangle" of Russia, India and China. Russia and India have already declared a strategic partnership but China, which has shared rather tense ties with India, has shown little interest in joining.

Chinese leaders expressed an interest in the alliance in 1999 to then-Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov after U.S. aircraft bombed their embassy in Belgrade, a former high-ranking security official said in an interview.

Primakov had strongly advocated the strategic triangle.

However, Primakov was fired soon afterward and the strategic triangle never materialized, said the official, who asked not to be identified.

Despite failing to draw China into a strategic alliance, Russia remains eager to continue its arms cooperation with China since it generates more than $1 billion a year for the defense industry, the official said.

Defense experts agree that a limited U.S. shield would not protect the United States from Russia's formidable strategic nuclear arsenal, but it would seriously undermine the Chinese strategic forces' capability of attacking U.S. territory.

Alexander Pikayev of the Moscow Carnegie Center said Moscow and Beijing will probably sign a new vaguely worded friendship pact and it will simply be an update of the last wide-scale friendship accord, which was reached in 1950 and has expired long ago.

Once signed, however, the accord could well be complimented with memorandums such as an agreement to assist China in developing its early warning systems should Washington deploy the NMD, said Safranchuk. Such a memorandum would probably be nonbinding, as Russia will have to eventually strike some compromise with the United States over the NMD and, thus, has to avoid making any commitments to China over the issue, Pikayev said.