Medvedev: Russia-China a force to contend with

By Victoria Loginova, AFP

BEIJING — Russia’s new President Dmitry Medvedev, winding up his first foreign trip, said Saturday the world could not ignore the joint voice of his country and China, and rejected criticism of the alliance. Medvedev said it was symbolic that he picked China as his first destination outside the former Soviet Union. The two countries have been increasingly assertive as their economies grow on the back of rising exports.

“Russian-Chinese cooperation has today emerged as a key factor in international security, without which it is impossible for the international community to take major decisions,” Medvedev said at Peking University.

“Maybe not everybody likes the strategic cooperation between our two countries, but we understand that this cooperation is in the interest of our people and we will boost it whether or not it pleases some people,” he said, without naming critics.

A day earlier, Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao in a joint statement denounced U.S. plans to build a global missile defense shield. Russia has been outraged by U.S. plans to build the shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, former Soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe. Russia and China have also been uneasy about U.S.-Japanese cooperation on a missile shield. But Medvedev has stayed away from openly assailing the West in the style of his mentor and predecessor Vladimir Putin, who remains highly influential in the prime minister’s post. China and Russia are veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, where they have coordinated positions on controversial issues such as Kosovan independence, which they both oppose, as well as the Iranian nuclear issue.

The two have also established the Shanghai Cooperation Organization with four Central Asian nations in a set-up similar to the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which has been expanding into Eastern Europe.

“Our activity is not directed against any other country but serves to maintain an international balance,” Medvedev said of cooperation with China.

Unlike most Western nations, Russia has not voiced concerns about China’s human rights record or its clampdown on protests that broke out in Tibet in March against Chinese rule.

Medvedev told the Chinese students that he was looking forward to the Beijing Olympics, whose worldwide torch relay was marred by protests over Tibet.

“I am convinced that the organization of the Olympic Games will be at a high level,” he said.

“When I watch the Olympic Games, of course I will support Russian athletes but also the Chinese athletes and I hope that together we will win all of the medals.”

But analysts note that a spate of disputes still mar ties between Russia and China, which had armed conflicts in the Soviet era.

Negotiations have been bogged down on plans for a Russian oil pipeline to supply China’s rapidly growing economy.

They are also competing for Central Asia’s oil and gas, which was exclusively Moscow’s preserve in Soviet times.

Hu accepted Medvedev’s invitation to visit Russia next year, Chinese state media reported.