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Medvedev's Trip to China

2:41 PM, May 27, 2008 • By JENNIFER CHOU
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Russian president Dmitry Medvedev was the first foreign head-of-state to visit China since the May 12 earthquake. Although the May 23-24 trip had been planned before the quake struck, Chinese media nonetheless characterized it as "earthquake diplomacy" that provided the Chinese people with "mental support" in the aftermath of the disaster. Much was also made of the fact that the first shipment of international aid to reach hard-hit Sichuan province was donated by Russia.

Other than the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, China is the first country Medvedev has visited since taking office on May 7. Official Chinese media regarded the trip as one that was based on "thoughtful considerations." To reciprocate the gesture, a Chinese-language version of Russian National Development Issues, a collection of 13 speeches by Medvedev during his tenure as vice prime minister, was released in Beijing a day before the Russian leader's arrival. Also marking the state visit were a newly designed set of stamps and commemorative envelopes.

In the lead-up to Medvedev's visit, the Chinese media made a special point of reporting on a recent survey of the Russian public. In the poll, conducted by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, China was mentioned most frequently when Russians were asked "Which country is friendliest towards Russia?"

Beyond the cordial welcome, Beijing's assessment is that Medvedev's decision to travel to China so soon after his inauguration reflected a number of geopolitical considerations. In addition to further consolidating bilateral ties which had reached "a historical high" under Putin, Medvedev saw in China "a breakthrough point" and "a special diplomatic arena" at a time when Moscow's relations with Georgia, the EU, and the United States have all been strained.

Liberation Daily predicted that despite Medvedev's "looking East," Moscow will continue to strive for "a balanced diplomacy":

When Putin first assumed office, and especially after the September 11 incident, U.S.-Russian relations experienced a "honeymoon period" as a result of mutual cooperation in anti-terrorism. Bilateral relations started cooling as the U.S., while accusing Putin of amassing dictatorial power, supported "color revolutions" in some CIS countries. The tensions intensified alongside America's attempts to extend its missile defense shield to Eastern Europe. The straining of relations between Russia and the West in general, and between Russia and the U.S. in particular, means that Moscow is in greater need of reliable partners and allies in the East. However, Russia, although defiant, has no intention of engaging in total confrontation with the West. Objectively speaking, it does not yet have the strength required.