Closer Moscow ties 'a victim of economics'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 December, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 December, 1998, 12:00am

The main obstacle for closer relations between Beijing and Moscow is the latter's economic crisis, a Russian sinologist said yesterday.

A lack of foreign investment had put many projects into question, said Professor Vladimir Myasnikov, deputy director of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Chinese companies which wanted to place orders with Russian firms often found the Russians could not deliver because they were unable to pay their own engineers and workers, he told a Hong Kong luncheon organised by the Asia Society.

The countries had resolved their differences over sensitive political issues, such as border disputes, but that had not led to a blossoming of commercial ties.

Bilateral trade grew slowly from US$5 billion (HK$38.7 billion) in 1996 to US$6 billion last year.

Ties in the latter half of the century had been overshadowed by different views of Marxist principles, border disputes and arguments over nuclear weapons proliferation.

However, recently China and Russia had begun to redefine and strengthen their relationship, the professor said.

The recent meeting between presidents Jiang Zemin and Boris Yeltsin in Moscow settled border demarcation problems and signalled a convergence between the two countries on major foreign policies.

'The two sides have developed a mechanism to deal with inter-state relations,' Professor Myasnikov said.

Although both countries named new premiers this year, the professor said the changes had not affected bilateral ties.

He predicted the relationship would be strengthened when Premier Zhu Rongji met his Russian counterpart, Yevgeny Primakov, in the spring.

Both men were pragmatic politicians.

'The meeting between the two will show how this type of relation will develop,' he said.

Russian Consul-General in Hong Kong Konstantin Vnukov said Sino-Russian relations were unlikely to be affected even if Mr Yeltsin lost power.

'The greatest achievement of the bilateral relations in the past few years is the settlement of the most sensitive issue, the territorial dispute,' he said.

Mr Vnukov believed Russian leaders agreed with the new direction of developing a deeper economic relationship with China. It would not change even if Mr Yeltsin left the political scene, he said.