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Far from home, Medvedev finds China a looming presence

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.
by Staff Writers
Lima (AFP) Nov 25, 2008
As President Dmitry Medvedev takes Russian assertiveness to Washington's doorstep on a tour of Latin America, analysts point out an uncomfortable truth: China is stealing the show.

The 43-year-old leader was relentlessly upbeat as he met other heads of state at a weekend forum of Asia-Pacific leaders in Peru, exhorting Russian journalists following his punishing itinerary: "For those that wish, let's travel further together."

Medvedev was going on to Brazil and arch US foes Venezuela and Cuba, with exercises by Russia's navy off Venezuela seen as sending a defiant message to the United States.

In a reminder of past Cold War struggles, he stressed Russia's desire for renewed ties with Latin American countries close to Moscow in the Soviet era.

But as Chinese President Hu Jintao paraded through Lima in an open-top car and was feted at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, a Russian newspaper, Kommersant, dubbed Medvedev's trip an "economy-class tour."

Noting Hu visited Cuba days earlier and provided lashings of financial help, Kommersant warned Russian businessmen visiting with Medvedev would only get contracts that hadn't "appetized" the Chinese.

China and Russia are ostensibly allies in a group called the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, but there is little doubt which is the dominant power, says Moscow-based analyst Fyodor Lukyanov.

"Russia and China are competing for influence in various parts of the world, especially in Latin America, but Chinese positions are much more deep and solid," said Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russian in Global Affairs.

"In terms of international influence, we're playing in a different league," he said.

In particular, while Beijing has no territorial designs on Russia, Moscow in the long term can only be concerned for the fate of its vast, sparsely populated far eastern regions bordering China, he said.

"There is a threat the Russian far east will de facto be integrated into the economic systems of East Asia. If China plays a more important role for the people of Vladivostok and other Russian cities, the next step will be a redistribution of political influence," Lukyanov said.

It's a view shared by Robert Dujarric, a security expert at Tokyo's Temple University, who says part of the problem is that few countries to Russia's east feel Moscow has much to offer.

For China "the markets are in the US, Europe and Japan. The technology they need and the universities their students go to are in the West and Japan. Their financial ties are with the West.

"It's hard to believe the Chinese leadership sees Russia as an ally," he said.

Russia "really doesn't exist in the imagination of East Asia," said Dujarric.

One area where Russia has had some success marketing itself is in space expertise, with Russia launching astronauts and satellites for Brazil, Malaysia and South Korea.

Arms sales also remain an earner among the traditionally leftist countries of Latin America, exemplified by the deals Russia hopes to secure with controversial partner Venezuela.

But security analyst Bob Ayers, of London-based research centre Chatham House, says even this strength is in doubt as Russian technology has largely stood still since the Soviet era.

He says the inadvertent poisoning of 20 sailors aboard a Russian submarine off the country's far east this month will not have gone unnoticed by countries assessing Russia's defense capability.

And with China holding a significant nuclear arsenal and developing its own arms, Beijing may soon have little reason to feel inferior, says Ayers.

"Are they (China) behind Russia in training and discipline? Are they behind technologically? It's getting very hard to judge," said Ayers.

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Japan struggles under shadow of China's vigorous diplomacy
Lima (AFP) Nov 24, 2008
Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso on Monday saw progress in talks with key countries at a summit here, but he struggled to maintain Tokyo's presence on the international stage as China flexes its diplomatic muscle.

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