No cause for alarm

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 April, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 April, 1996, 12:00am

President Boris Yeltsin's three-day visit to China will inspire much speculation about the birth of a new Sino-Russian common front towards the United States. In Hong Kong, Wen Wei Po sees the trip as proof of Washington's declining influence in the region.

For Beijing, the timing is particularly convenient, serving as a riposte to President Bill Clinton's recent reaffirmation of a continuing US military presence in Asia. Mr Yeltsin's re-election prospects may also receive a boost as the visit steals a key plank from the platform of his Communist opponent, which lays great stress on the need for closer ties with China.

The trip may unsettle Washington. Arms sales are high on the agenda. A high profile non-aggression pact, which also includes three central Asian republics, is set to be signed in Shanghai tomorrow. Both governments would be happy to have an extra card to play in their up-and-down relationships with the US on such issues as China's membership of the World Trade Organisation or Russia's bid for full admission to G7.

Despite this, any Sino-Russian rapprochement is likely to be strictly limited. Beijing could never trust a politician who played such a leading role in ending Communist rule in the Soviet Union - and many Russians remain intensely suspicious that cheap Chinese goods and labour could ruin their economy.

For strategic reasons, it may make sense for the two governments to give an impression of lining up against the US. But this is more show than reality. The rest of the world has nothing to fear from Mr Yeltsin's visit to China.