Russia, China Unite Against U.S. Defense Plan

BEIJING, China (AP) -- The presidents of China and Russia have condemned U.S. plans for a global missile defense system.

In a joint statement signed with Chinese President Hu Jintao, the leaders said a U.S. plan for a global missile defense system "does not help to maintain strategic balance and stability or strengthen international efforts to control nonproliferation."

Moscow and Beijing have formed closer ties in recent years as part of their efforts to counterbalance Washington's global dominance.

The agreement came after new Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived Friday in Beijing on his first overseas trip since his inauguration earlier this month -- a further sign of improving ties between the one-time Cold War rivals.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Medvedev's two-day visit will include talks with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. His arrival in Beijing was to come after a stop in neighboring Kazakhstan on Thursday, where he was seeking to preserve his country's clout in the energy-rich Central Asian region.

China and Russia have built a relationship intended to serve as a counterweight to U.S. dominance, but continued friction remains -- especially over oil and gas -- in Central Asia.

Medvedev's trip to Kazakhstan was apparently intended to send a message to both Beijing and the West that Moscow continues to see the former Soviet Central Asia as its home turf.

"Russia is worried by China's quiet expansion in Central Asia," said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs magazine. "Moscow has grown accustomed to viewing Central Asia as its backyard, but China doesn't share this view."

China already has won a cut of the region's riches, reaching an oil pipeline deal with Kazakhstan and negotiating a gas agreement with Turkmenistan.

"China has been actively seeking to secure energy supplies from Central Asia and they have gone quite far," said Alexander Konovalov, head of the Moscow-based Institute for Strategic Assessment.

There is also rich symbolism in Medvedev's choice of China as the main destination of his first foreign trip. When his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, went abroad for the first time as president in 2000, he traveled to London -- via Belarus -- with a message Russia wanted closer ties to the West.

In recent years, China and Russia have made highly symbolic political overtures to one another, holding joint military maneuvers and engaging in high-level talks on creating a "multi-polar world."

They have taken a coordinated stance on several global issues, sharing opposition to Kosovo's independence and U.S. missile defense plans, and taking a similar approach to the Iran nuclear issue.

Putin greatly strengthened relations with China, reaching a long-delayed agreement on demarcation of the 2,700 mile border.

However, economic ties have lagged behind. Bilateral trade rose by about one-third last year to some $48 billion, but still accounts for only 2 percent of China's global trade. China does more than eight times as much business with the United States.

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