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Russia, China sign pledge of "eternal peace'

Decades after their last treaty collapsed amid border clashes and disagreements over doctrine, Russia and China once again pledged to each other friendship and "eternal peace" on Monday, challenging what they see as the threat of a new global order dominated by the United States.

A 25-point agreement signed in a Kremlin hall by Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin was not exactly a reprise of the 1950 anti-imperialist military pact between Russia's Josef Stalin and China's Mao Tse-Tung.

Neither side mentioned military cooperation, and both stated that their understanding should not pose a threat to any third country.

Nevertheless, the fundamental message of the treaty, sealed by a bear hug between the beaming leaders Putin and Jiang, is that the two behemoths of Eurasia intend to support each other in a global community now dominated by the United States.

"This treaty pertains primarily to the relationship between China and the Russian Federation," said Putin. "But we also assume that the treaty will be an important element in contemporary international relations."

"It is a milestone in the development of Russian-Chinese relations," said Jiang.

Despite protestations to the contrary, the leaders clearly have in mind a specific country whom the treaty is meant to impress, said Alexander Yakovlev, a top China expert at the Russian Academy of Science's Far East Institute.

"Diplomats know any such treaty is always signed with a clear understanding about who is the real adversary," said Yakovlev. "The signatories claim they are fighting against hegemony. Everyone in the world knows who the embodiment of hegemony is _ the U.S. and its allies."

At the White House, press secretary Ari Fleischer downplayed the treaty.

"Just because Russia and China have entered into an agreement, it does not necessarily mean it's something that would be adverse to the interests of the United States," Fleischer said.

In the treaty, Moscow stated that it fully supports China's claims to Taiwan, which China considers a rebellious province. Beijing in turn said it recognized Russia's territorial integrity and supports the methods Russia is using to maintain its territory, an allusion to the war Moscow is waging against separatists in Chechnya that has been much criticized in the West.

Besides the treaty itself, Putin and Jiang issued a series of declarations outlining similar positions on key global issues, including the need to preserve the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty that President Bush wants to abrogate or modify.

Russia and China have been highly critical of Bush's proposed National Missile Defense, which would violate the ABM treaty. Coincidentally, their signing ceremony took place only two days after a successful test by the Pentagon of an anti-missile missile over the Pacific Ocean.

The new Sino-Russian treaty has a life span of 20 years and will be automatically renewed for five years after that if neither side withdraws.

With the exception of China's 1961 treaty with North Korea, it is the only bilateral friendship treaty that China has with any country. It means that past irritants in the relationship from the 1960s-1980s have been laid aside. Putin pointed out that only two small lingering disagreements still exist in the exact demarcation of their 2,400 miles of shared borders.

In one of their statements, Putin and Jiang said they hoped to create a "just and rational new international order" to reflect their concept of a "multipolar" world led by the United Nations.

While good relationships are useful to Russia and China, neither country is currently in a position to strongly antagonize the United States.

For China, the United States is both a huge customer and source of direct foreign investment. For Russia, the United States is a key factor in the country's international security and its hopes to more closely integrate with Western Europe.

Russian-Chinese trade last year totaled $8-billion, compared to $115-billion in trade between China and the United States.

However, China is strongly reliant on Russia in one major category _ weapons. It buys fighter jets and other military technology, augmenting its profile as a rising East Asian regional power.

In the agreement, Putin and Jiang vowed to expand economic cooperation in oil and gas, energy, aircraft building, communications and new technologies.

In case of an external threat to either country, both states would hold immediate emergency consultations. But the treaty stopped short of requiring mutual assistance.

The Russian-Chinese accord comes on the heels of Friday's decision by the International Olympic Committee, meeting in Moscow, to award the 2008 Summer Games to Beijing.