Moscow-Beijing axis emerging around weapons and oil, keeping US out
In Russia 2007 will be the Year of China. Beijing buys 90 per cent of its military hardware from Russia and insists on building an oil pipeline between the two countries. The two parties are working together to carve out their spheres of influence in Central Asia.

Moscow (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Russia's Year of China, a series of high-level forums and festivals, underscores a growing relationship between Beijing and Moscow with strategic and economic implications centred on energy, weapons and world politics. As announced, President Hu Jintao's and Premier Wen Jiabao's will visit the Russian capital for the event’s opening and closing ceremonies next month and in November. Meetings between leaders will be held at highest level.

Experts suggest that this year Beijing and Moscow are likely to push ahead for closer economic cooperation, especially in the energy field and are bound to work together in the military area and in international affairs.

China gets 90 per cent of its arms imports from Russia spending up to US$ 3 billion a year. This accounts for 40 per cent of Russia's total military sales.

China’s military needs Russian technology and the two neighbours have been quietly collaborating on ballistic missile research, nuclear technologies and space exploration.

Similarly, in the last few months the two countries have adopted similar positions on several issues in opposition to the United States, and their relationship is taking on greater weight, especially at the regional level.

For example, whilst the Washington has threatened Iran with sanctions if does not give up its nuclear programme, Beijing and Moscow have threatened to use their veto power to block them if they come up at the United Nations.

The two also joined forces last month to veto a US-drafted Security Council resolution that would have demanded Myanmar's military regime end political and human rights repression. China is an old ally Myanmar.

Both states belong to the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, which includes Central Asian countries as well as observers like Iran, India and Pakistan, and is increasingly becoming a venue for closer military and political co-operation in the region.

“The political climate has stabilised, and in 2007 and 2008 Chinese companies will participate in more projects in Russia,” said Ren Qinxin, head of the Moscow branch of the China State Construction and Engineering Co—the Fortune 500 subsidiary that is a contractor for the Russian capital's prize development, the Moskva-City Federatsia 432-metre tower. The building is set to become Europe's tallest building.

Russia will hold presidential elections in 2008 and observers suggest that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to further Sino-Russian cooperation so as to boost his reputation as the leader who restored Russian power vis-à-vis the United States.

In 2006 Hu and Putin met three times, more than with any other leader. And the Year of China will provide even more opportunities for Chinese and Russian leaders to meet.

Yet, despite burgeoning bonds between Moscow and Beijing, tensions underlie their 1,000-year-old relationship, often wrought with rivalries and cultural gaps since both countries want to play a leading role in central Asia.

China has sought to build a direct oil and gas pipeline to buttress current rail deliveries. But the Russians seem undecided over whether to accept it for once done it would seal a close relationship.

The Chinese have also complained about the quality of planes and spare parts purchased from Russia, whilst border disputes persist.

For Dmitri Trenin, deputy director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, in the near future the two countries will remains “partners, but not allies”.