The Three Players

By Bin, Yu | Harvard International Review, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

The Three Players


Bin, Yu, Harvard International Review


I would like to complement James Hsiung's article ("The Strategic Triangle," Spring 2004) by exploring the "not-so-strategic" triangle and thinking about the future of the relations between the three key players. In juxtaposing my themes with those of Hsiung's, the triangular relationship may perhaps be further understood in the current and future political context.

When presidential races began in the United States and Russia in 2004, the keenest observer of these elections was in fact China's fourth-generation leaders. In the age of preemption and unilateralism, all three former "political-military" states of the Cold War--though no longer arch enemies--still continue to play the geo-strategic game.

The current triangular dynamics are far from the intense confrontation and almost zero-sum games of the Cold War. They nonetheless have a great deal of nuance, ambiguity, and maneuvering space. That said, there has been a qualitative change in the power configuration among the three; the United States emerged from the Cold War as the world's unquestionable superpower.

Within the limits of this geopolitical confine, however, there is plenty of room for Moscow and Beijing to maneuver. A glimpse of the past decade points to some major accomplishments in Sino-Russian relations, and the two nations also actively coordinate policies in numerous multilateral fora, and over many issues including Iraq, Korea, regional security, and the United Nations.

The growing Beijing-Moscow ties were made, at least partially, in the United States. During the first few months of the Bush administration, Washington was busy playing hardball with both Beijing and Moscow. Within ten days, 50 Russian diplomats were expelled for "spying" (in March 21, 2001) and a US surveillance plane collided with a Chinese jet fighter (in April 1, 2001). This was followed by US President George W. Bush's public statement to defend Taiwan and an unprecedented US$5 billion arms sale to the island.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, Russia and China came quickly to assist the United States with moral support, intelligence sharing, security coordination, and diplomatic efforts, hoping to soft-land their difficult relations with the United States. Washington reciprocated as well. As a result, some of the most "beautiful" relations emerged in this brave new world. Bush seemed convinced that Russian President Vladimir Putin could be trusted because he detected, even before September 11, a "soulmate" in the eyes of the former KGB colonel. …

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