May 22: Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, right, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev toast during a signing ceremony in Astana, Kazakhstan.
China and Russia jointly condemned a U.S. plan for a global missile defense system on Friday at the start of a highly symbolic visit by new Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
More specific than previous joint criticisms, the statement from Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao objected to the installation of missile defense components in "some regions," an apparent reference to former Soviet bloc countries where the U.S. plans to deploy components of the system.
"The creation of global missile defense systems and their deployment in some regions of the world ... does not help to maintain strategic balance and stability and hampers international efforts in arms control and nuclear nonproliferation," Hu and Medvedev said.
U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters that the criticisms were "not that much different from previous ones that we've seen."
He added that the U.S. wants to continue to work with the Russian government on "what really is a common threat." The criticism, he said, "just shows that we have more work to do in terms of working with them to resolve" differences.
Medvedev took over on May 7 from predecessor Vladimir Putin, who took an assertive stance with the West in recent years. The United States and other nations have been watching to see whether Medvedev — who has hinted at a more liberal and pro-business approach than Putin — would tone down the anti-Western rhetoric and be less confrontational.
The White House said that it was not disappointed that a change in power in Russia hasn't yielded a change in stance on U.S. missile defense.
"We're going to work with them to work through these concerns, and we think we can resolve any concerns that anyone has about this and the true nature of the program," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.
Medvedev's choice of China as the main destination of his first foreign trip reflected the two nations' increasing closeness in recent years as part of their efforts to counterbalance what they have called Washington's global dominance.
When 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.
China and Russia also signed a $1 billion nuclear cooperation deal that strengthens Russia's role as a supplier to China's fast-growing nuclear power industry. It calls for Russia to build a $500 million nuclear fuel enrichment plant and supply semi-enriched uranium worth at least $500 million.
Russia is looking to China as an important market for civilian nuclear technology as Beijing builds more nuclear power plants in an effort to curb rapid growth in use of fossil fuels.
"By visiting China on his first trip abroad since taking office, President Medvedev has shown that he attaches a high level of importance to the development of bilateral ties," Hu said. "I am sure this visit will give impetus to our strategic partnership and take it to a new level."
Hu thanked Russia for offering speedy earthquake relief, expressing gratitude to both Medvedev and his predecessor Vladimir Putin — now prime minister — for assistance offered after the May 12 quake that killed more than 55,000 people.
Russia sent rescue crews and a mobile hospital to the disaster area in central Sichuan province.
Medvedev offered his condolences to quake victims and said Moscow would provide any assistance needed.
"Russia and China are strategic partners. You have rightly pointed out the meaning of my first foreign trip in my capacity," he said. "It is very important that there are no pauses in our relationship."
Medvedev came to China from a stop in neighboring Kazakhstan, where he was seeking to preserve his country's clout in energy-rich central Asia and send a message to both Beijing and the West that Moscow continues to see the region as its home turf.
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.
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."
Putin greatly strengthened relations with China, reaching a long-delayed agreement on demarcation of the 2,700 mile border.
However, economic ties have lagged. 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.