by: Agence France-Presse
Beijing – Russia and China on Friday denounced US plans for a global missile defence shield and signed a billion-dollar nuclear contract as Russia’s new President Dmitry Medvedev made his diplomatic debut.
Medvedev was in Beijing on his first visit outside the former Soviet Union since he took over on May 7 from Vladimir Putin, a destination seen as highly symbolic at a time of tension between Moscow and the West.
President Hu Jintao joined Medvedev in denouncing US plans to build a missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, saying it “would not contribute to maintaining strategic balance and stability.”
In a joint statement that did not explicitly name the United States, the two leaders said the missile shield plan “hinders international arms control and non-proliferation efforts.”
The United States says that the shield, which was approved by the Czech government on Wednesday, would defend against countries the West sees as threats such as Iran and North Korea. But Russia has been livid at what it sees as an incursion into its backyard.
Russia and China have already expressed concern over the missile shield being developed between Washington and Tokyo that began after North Korea test fired a ballistic missile over Japan in 1998.
In his meeting with Hu, Medvedev told the Chinese side that it was “very important that there are no pauses in our relationship.”
“Russia and China are strategic partners. You have rightly pointed out the meaning of my first foreign trip in my capacity,” he said.
Hu thanked Russia for sending medical personnel to help China after last week’s earthquake, which has left more than 80,000 people dead or missing.
“I am convinced that this visit will give impetus to the development of a strategic partnership,” Hu said.
The two countries signed a one-billion dollar deal for the expansion of a uranium enrichment facility in China as well as the supply of Russian uranium, said Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Russian nuclear agency Rosatom.
Russia has been competing against Western nations and Japan as China tries to boost nuclear power and lessen its dependence on coal, which is blamed for China’s rising pollution and proved hard to deliver in severe storms this winter.
China and Russia are veto-wielding permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, where they have been coordinating their positions on controversial issues such as the Iranian nuclear issue and Kosovan independence, which they both oppose.
Russia has also refused to join international criticism of China’s human rights record in the run-up to this summer’s Beijing Olympics.
However, observers note that problems persist in relations between Russia and China, which had a series of armed clashes during the Soviet era.
China and Russia are competing for Central Asia’s oil and gas, which was exclusively Moscow’s preserve in Soviet times.
Planned construction of an oil pipeline to energy-hungry China had become bogged down by differences between Russian state-controlled oil major Rosneft and the China National Petroleum Corp., the country’s top oil producer.
There is also a quiet rivalry in the defence sphere, with some officials in Moscow reportedly worried about Beijing gaining too much access to Russian military secrets through increased defence sales to China.
In Moscow, the independent daily Kommersant wrote that the relationship with China was a “strategic sham.”
In Beijing, Medvedev “basically has to talk about problems,” the paper said.
Since taking office, Medvedev has refrained from openly assailing the West in the style of his mentor and predecessor Putin, who remains highly influential in the prime minister’s post.
But the visit to China was meant to send a message, said analyst Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs.
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