London (CNSNews.com) - Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday began his first official visit to China where the two Asian giants aim to shore up their shared opposition to American "hegemony" and US plans to build a national missile defense system umbrella.
The proposed NMD missile-interception system under consideration by the Clinton Administration is expected to be the main item on the agenda at talks Tuesday between Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
The NMD program is intended to defend the US mainland from missiles that could soon be launched by "rogue" states rapidly acquiring missile technology, including Iran and Iraq.
Both the NMD plan and one for an allied program, a Theatre Missile Defense system to protect American troops and allies in Asia, have been angrily rejected by Russia and China.
The two leaders will sign a joint statement at their talks this week reiterating their opposition to the US and Allied missile defense proposals.
President Clinton is expected to make a decision on deployment of the systems sometime this fall.
China and Russia oppose any amendment to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, signed between the US and the Soviet Union in 1972. Pushing ahead with NMD on the part of the US would require such an amendment.
The statement will warn of "negative consequences" to global security if the US scraps the ABM treaty and builds the defensive umbrella, a Chinese official was quoted as saying.
"Undermining the ABM treaty will lead to the emergence of new elements for regional and international instability, will lend an excuse for the resumption of an arms race and erect new obstacles to the international disarmament process," he said.
Beijing's official Xinhua news agency quoted Putin as saying Russia shared a strategic partnership with China and put its relations with Beijing among its top foreign policy priorities.
"Putin and Jiang talked by telephone in June when they expressed that the two nations, as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, should take significant responsibilities for maintaining international peace and security," the agency said.
The developing relationship between Beijing and Moscow has been nourished both by their views on NMD and TMD and their common opposition to the concept of "humanitarian military intervention" as played out during the US-led NATO campaign in the Balkans last year.
Western condemnation of Russia's military campaign in Chechnya and China's clampdown on religious freedoms added to the resentment.
During a visit to China by former Russian President Boris Yeltsin last December, the two countries announced that they rejected a "unipolar" world dominated by the US and Western interference in their affairs justified on the basis of human rights concerns.
Putin said before leaving for Beijing that his talks there would focus on international issues, arms control and international issues.
The two leaders will also sign a number of cooperation agreements, especially in the energy field. Putin is understood to be unhappy with the level of bilateral trade between the countries.
From Beijing, Putin will go Wednesday to North Korea for an historic first visit to that reclusive country by a Moscow leader.
Over the weekend, Putin will attend the summit of the G8 nations in Okinawa that include the US, Britain, Japan, Germany, Canada, Italy, France and Russia.