The strategic triangle that once dominated world politics during the heyday of the Cold War has lost much of its glamour since the collapse of Soviet power. Nonetheless, Washington continues to keep a watchful eye on what transpires between Russia and China to pick up on clues that may hold policy implications for US national interests. US strategic moves may likewise foreshadow the policy responses of Russia and China.
An example of this interaction is found in a series of events that took place in 1993 and 1994. In September 1993, China lost its bid before the International Olympic Committee to host the 2000 Olympic Games, allegedly because of US opposition. The defeat by a mere two votes was devastating to Beijing. Two months later, perhaps by coincidence, Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev visited China and signed an agreement with his Chinese counterpart to spur ministry-to-ministry defense cooperation. The impact of this development on Washington is hard to assess, but it came at a time when US President Bill Clinton was weighing the annual report to US Congress on whether to renew Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status for China. On May 25, 1994, far ahead of the deadline, Clinton announced that the United States was ready to renew China's MFN status. He made it known, in a clear break with tradition, that the MFN issue for China would henceforth be delinked from the human rights question. Clinton's policy shift anticipated the 1999 US Congressional legislation that awarded China Permanent Normal Trade Relations status, paving the way for Chinese accession to the World Trade Organization two years later.
The Sino-Russo Partnership
While Clinton favored engagement with both Russia and China, he seemed increasingly wary of Russia. Despite the domestic disarray that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia had inherited a powerful nuclear capability that could conceivably be a potent threat. This concern may have been responsible for the West's post-1993 push to enlarge NATO. The move apparently changed Russia's initial "Atlanticist" outlook, and by 1995 Moscow had turned both inward and eastward.
In its inward or nostalgic turn, Moscow embraced a "statist" policy to develop a strategic identity and seek regional power status. In Eurasia, Russia looked …