The Russia Card

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BEIJING: With China and the U.S. at odds over a variety of issues, including Taiwan, human rights and trade, China's Premier Li Peng has been courting potential allies. This week's candidate: Russian President Boris Yeltsin, in China Wednesday. "For Beijing, this is a way to play the Russia card in light of China's problems with the U.S.," Beijing bureau chief Jaime FlorCruz says. "As Li Peng played the French card by giving lucrative airplane deals a couple of weeks ago, China is dangling trade and other possible relations with Russia as a way of telling Washington that it is not the only game in town." For Russia, the meeting is part of a strategy to cultivate closer ties in Asia. "Russia is in dire economic straits and is looking at other markets for trade," FlorCruz says. "China is an attractive market. Russia has a lot to offer China in terms of aircraft, military, nuclear and satellite technology." During Yeltsin's visit, the two countries are expected to sign 14 agreements, including one setting up a hot-line between Moscow and Beijing. The main goal of the summit is to improve the relationship between the two countries. "Yeltsin's visit is an attempt to put substance into the relationship," FlorCruz says. "This summit will put the relationship on a more solid basis in terms of trade, economic cooperation, border agreements, and provide more political exchange." Along with bolstering relations, Yeltsin has indicated he will try to pressure Beijing to sign the nuclear test ban treaty agreed to by Russia and the G-7 leaders last weekend. "Don't expect Yeltsin to push hard in public for China to sign the treaty," FlorCruz says. "Yeltsin knows China doesn't like to be pushed into a corner in public. But it will be on his agenda."