July 19, 2001 | News Releases on National Security and Defense

U.S. Should Keep "Watchful Eye" On Sino-Russian Partership, Expert Says

WASHINGTON, Jul. 19, 2001- The United States should be concerned about the "friendship and cooperation" treaty Russia and China just signed, as it may signal a major geopolitical shift in the Eurasian balance of power, a new Heritage Foundation paper says.

"In essence, Russia and China are trying to define the rules of the road for those who want to do business in Central Asia," says Ariel Cohen, research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies at Heritage. While not as anti-Western as the last treaty signed by the two Asian powers prior to the start of the Korean War in 1950, the new agreement seeks to counter U.S. economic and military dominance in the world, Cohen notes. Yes, weapons sales and military cooperation will flow from the agreement, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction should be the Bush administration's "highest concern," Cohen says, noting that the pact paves the way for Sino-Russian efforts to deflect Western concerns on human rights, particularly the rights of ethnic minorities.

But for both Russia and China, too much rides on their relations with the United States for the rhetoric about America's "power politics" and "hegemonism" to cause them to turn their back on it completely, even for the sake of creating their own sphere of influence in Central Europe, Cohen says.

Chinese trade with the United States and the West ($284 billion last year) continues to dwarf trade with Russia and Central Asia ($8 billion) and will do so for some time. The United States shares the concerns of both nations over Islamic fundamentalism. And U.S. technology and financing will continue to be vital to both for decades to come.

The new treaty follows by about a month the creation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, in which Russia, China and four Central Asian states joined together in an effort to control Islamic fundamentalism and develop the vast mineral resources of Central Asia.

U.S. officials should monitor these treaties closely, encourage Moscow to stop providing China with sophisticated military assistance, boost security cooperation with Japan and India, and help Russia and China counter radical Islamic organizations, such as Osama bin Laden's Al Queda.

"Riding the Chinese dragon may prove less comfortable than the Russians thought it would be," Cohen says. "And China may have to address security concerns in Central Asia regardless of its relationship with Russia. Whatever happens, we need not panic. But we should keep a watchful eye."

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