Putin travels to China on first stop of Asia tour

BEIJING - Russian President Vladimir Putin came to Beijing on Monday for a summit with his Chinese counterpart during which the two leaders are expected to reaffirm their opposition to Washington's plans for a missile defense shield.

The visit is the first stop on an Asian tour intended to reassert Russia's global clout ahead of a meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized powers in Okinawa, Japan.

Putin and President Jiang Zemin were to sign a statement condemning the proposed U.S. limited national missile defense, which would require modifying the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The two leaders were also expected to take further steps to bolster relations between the former communist rivals. They plan to sign agreements on energy cooperation, including a feasibility study for a gas pipeline from Russia into China. Bilateral agreements on education and banking are also on the agenda for the visit, which ends Tuesday.

Putin's plane, accented in the red, white and blue of the Russian flag, landed at Beijing's Capital Airport shortly after 11:30 p.m. Monday. The Russian president descended a red carpet and was greeted by Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Yang Wenchang and diplomats from the two sides before leaving in a motorcade of limousines and buses. Putin made no statement to the press.

Putin was to be formally welcomed by Jiang at a military ceremony near Tiananmen Square on Tuesday, followed by talks expected to focus on increasing cooperation and the two nations' opposition to U.S. development of a missile defense shield.

Putin is expected to use his visits to Beijing and Pyongyang, North Korea, to register once again Russia's deep concern over the U.S. proposal to modify the ABM treaty to allow construction of a limited national missile defense.

A Chinese official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Russia and China had a new kind of partnership that was ''nonaligned, non-confrontational, and non-threatening to any third party.''

After decades of tension that followed a falling-out in the late 1950s, relations between Moscow and China have been steadily improving since the late 1980s. Since the 1991 Soviet collapse, China has evolved into one of Russia's major trading partners and is the top customer for Russia's ailing military industrial complex. Beijing has purchased billions of dollars worth of jets, missiles, submarines and destroyers.

Russian and Chinese leaders have spoken much about the ''strategic partnership'' between their countries and their efforts to build a ''multipolar world'' - a term intended to underline their joint opposition to perceived U.S. global domination.

Some Russian media and analysts have warned the Kremlin against using political and military ties with China as a tool to blackmail the West.

''We need China and other Asian countries as economic partners and additional markets, not an alternative to the West,'' political analyst Yevgeny Verlin wrote in the business newspaper Vedomosti on Monday.

The two nations have long discussed plans for building oil and natural gas pipelines from Russia into China, but nothing has been done so far. According to Russian media reports, Russia could export up to $5 billion worth of energy resources a year to China if the projects materialize.

Officials traveling with Putin included Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, Defense Minister Gen. Igor Sergeyev and Minister of Energy Alexander Gavrin, China's state-run Xinhua News Agency said.


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