- ZHUHAI, China - The scene at the Sukhoi aircraft company's bustling
office here at the Zhuhai air show this week reminded a Russian weapons
engineer of the ''old days,'' when China and Russia walked together on
the road to communism.
- In a small room, a Chinese delegation
negotiated with officials from the aerospace company. Russian officials
said the Chinese were interested in adding the Su-30, Sukhoi's fighter
bomber, to their arsenal, which already includes Russian fighters, submarines
and anti-aircraft batteries. In addition, the Chinese plan to buy a state-of-the-art
- ''Then, China and Russia were allies,''
said Vladimir Konohov, the designer of one of Russia's top fighters, the
Su-37. ''Perhaps that day will come again.''
- Fifty years ago, a shared ideology brought
China and Russia together in a revolutionary embrace before that relationship
degenerated into recriminations and border skirmishes in the 1960s. Today,
Chinese cash and a common concern about the United States' domination of
world affairs are fueling a renaissance between the two giants.
- On Sunday, President Jiang Zemin will
travel to Russia for the sixth summit meeting between Russia and China
and the first informal ''no-necktie'' meeting between Mr. Jiang and Boris
Yeltsin, the ailing Russian president. Mr. Jiang will meet the Russian
prime minister, Yevgeni Primakov, as well. Mr. Jiang is expected to offer
Russia food as well as cash to aid Russia's ailing economy, Chinese sources
- Russia's ambassador to Beijing, Igor
Rogachev, told the official Xinhua press agency last week that the trip
was a sign that decades of hostility between Russia and China had given
way to a powerful ''strategic partnership,'' that aims at forging a ''new
order'' to challenge U.S. domination of the world arena.
- China has backed Russia's stance supporting
Yugoslavia's president, Slobodan Milosevic, on Kosovo and echoed Moscow's
calls for a peaceful settlement of the standoff with Iraq. Chinese officials
have noted publicly that Russia sides with China in its opposition to U.S.
plans for a theater missile defense network in Asia.
- No one expects Beijing's ties to Moscow
to eclipse China's relations with the United States in importance. China's
trade with Russia, for example, is only a fraction of its trade with the
United States: $4.12 billion with Russia for the first nine months of 1998
compared with more than $60 billion with the United States. Historical
distrust also bedevils the relationship, as does China's desire to play
a greater role in Central Asia and Mongolia - areas that Moscow regards
as its turf.
- Nonetheless, the emerging ties between
Moscow and Beijing have raised eyebrows in Western and Asian capitals because
the bulk of the relationship is founded on Russian arms sales to the People's
Liberation Army, or PLA. During the past four years, for example, arms
sales from Russia to China alone accounted for roughly one-quarter of the
total trade between the two countries, or $1 billion a year. Defense experts
are further concerned by Russia's apparent willingness to sell China increasingly
- China is Russia's second-biggest arms
customer after India. Western defense experts say its main weapons purchases
from Russia are designed not to help China fill short-term combat capability
but to gain access to advanced technology. China has purchased four Kilo-class
submarines, 48 Su-27 fighter jets produced by Sukhoi, along with a licensing
deal to produce about 200 more in China. Beijing is believed to have ordered
two Sovremenniy-class destroyers, currently being built in St. Petersburg.
- More important, Russian media reported
in April that the Progress aviation firm in Arsenyev, Maritime Territory,
had started production of 30 Sunburn anti-ship missiles for China. The
Sunburn can travel at twice the speed of sound while skimming the ocean's
surface. ''This one could hurt us,'' said an official at the U.S. Defense
- China's shopping spree in Moscow comes
at a time when the rest of Asia is reeling from an economic crisis that
has gutted arms acquisition programs across the region. This has left China,
Taiwan, Singapore and, to a lesser extent, Japan as the only countries
actively bolstering their arsenals. Such acquisitions have raised concern
in other Asian capitals.
- Thailand, for example, can only afford
to deploy its newly purchased 11,485 ton aircraft carrier once a month.
It has also canceled the purchase of eight U.S.-made F/A-18 fighters. Malaysia
has put on hold plans to buy its first submarines and 300 helicopters for
its army air corps. South Korea's defense forces postponed the purchase
of $1 billion worth of U.S. arms. And Indonesia canceled 12 Russian-made
Su-30K multi-role fighters and eight Mi-17V helicopters.
- Russian officials have told their Western
counterparts that Russia is not supplying China with its best technology.
- ''The line out of the Russian Embassy
is that anyone privy to all the details of these deals is not that uncomfortable
that Russia is giving away the farm,'' a Western diplomat in Beijing said.
''Also, they have a pretty healthy contempt for the Chinese military.''
- Lieutenant General Vladimir Mikhailov,
the vice commander of Russia's air force, said: ''We are selling the Chinese
- General Mikhailov was standing in a plush
function room of the Zhuhai Hotel, having just exchanged toasts and bearhugs
with several Chinese officials associated with the arms trade. ''But if
they want to buy the Su-30, we will sell it to them,'' he added.
- Defense experts think the Su-30 fighter-bomber
would mark a significant upgrade for China's air force. Richard Fisher,
a specialist on the Chinese military at the conservative Heritage Foundation
in Washington, said the sale to China of the Su-30 would give Beijing ''the
basis of a modern strike capability.''
- Eric McVadon, a former U.S. Navy admiral
and defense attaché in Beijing, agreed that ''Washington should
worry about more advanced fighters and quiet diesel submarines that China
might purchase from Russia.''
- He added: ''However, we should keep all
this in perspective. China can use these things to make our lives more
miserable in a future Taiwan crisis. Nevertheless, these purchases will
not allow the PLA to surmount all its shortcomings and become a power able
to threaten American power in Asia. The PLA is coming from a position of
truly extraordinary backwardness and obsolescence.''