China Eyes Building
Socialist Bloc To Counter US
BEIJING (Reuters) - As Sino-U.S. ties flounder over disputes about NATO bombing in Yugoslavia and U.S. charges of nuclear espionage, Beijing is turning toward its traditional socialist allies in Russia and North Korea for support.
Beijing and Moscow are now artfully milking U.S. foreign policy blunders for geopolitical clout, boosting their own roles on the international stage.
With a series of well-timed, high-level visits, the two neighbors have succeeded in putting the United States on alert with talk of a Beijing-Moscow "strategic partnership" and consensus on global issues.
"Russia and China are playing up their partnership as part of an orchestrated anti-U.S. alliance," said one Russian diplomat on condition of anonymity.
"They have done a similar thing in Iraq and will continue to use their new-found clout for individual aims."
Shortly after NATO bombs rained down on the Chinese embassy in Belgrade on May 7, Russian special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin flew into Beijing to discuss ways to resolve the Kosovo crisis.
NATO said the bombing, which killed three journalists and wounded 20 other people, was a tragic mistake. China said it was a deliberate attempt to silence Beijing's criticism of NATO's "interference in the internal affairs of Yugoslavia".
Although Chernomyrdin's visit had been planned well in advance and was part of a regular Russia-China dialogue on Kosovo, it gave pause to the West, which saw the move as a push to destabilize NATO unity over Yugoslavia.
North Korea will soon join the fray as the hermit kingdom comes off the diplomatic sidelines with a planned June 3-7 visit to Beijing by Pyongyang's second-in-command, Kim Yong-nam.
Kim will be the highest-level Pyongyang official to visit China since Beijing forged diplomatic ties with arch-rival South Korea in 1992.
He arrives in Beijing shortly after U.S. envoy William Perry pays a landmark visit to Pyongyang. Perry was expected to push for a break in the diplomatic impasse between the United States and North Korea.
Kim's Beijing sojourn will coincide with a long-planned trip by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, putting three officials in China for what observers expect to be a debriefing about Perry's new moves to court Pyongyang.
Russian diplomats say Ivanov's visit would focus on Kosovo. Nevertheless, the unexpected link to North Korea could give Ivanov's routine trip much greater import and boost the perception of a Russia-China axis.
But some Russian analysts argue the alliance is one of political convenience and has no lasting purpose.
"They talk about strategic partnership, but that is just talk," said Oleg Arin, a senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Military Science.
Citing a continued decline in trade and lack of common long-term goals, Oleg said both sides were exploiting the relationship but remained mutually suspicious.
"There are no strategic considerations", he said. "It is just posturing." (