In the wake of President Bush's first major foreign trip, at
least one thing seems clear: Russia, China, and the United States
are engaged in a new round of that classic geopolitical contest,
The rules of this game are simple. Two nations, historically at
odds, strike up a relationship as a counter to the perceived power
of the third.
The last time this particular trio played in earnest was the
early 1970s, when Richard Nixon extended his hand to China in part
to counter Soviet expansionism. Today it is Russian President
Vladimir Putin who is courting Beijing, as he attempts to prevent a
unilateral US move toward erection of missile defenses.
Of course, simple rules don't dictate a simple outcome. The
warmth of the weekend meeting between Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin
suggests that the latter hasn't made a final choice about his
And in any case, there's no guarantee that a new Russia-China
partnership would dissuade the Bush administration from pressing
forward with a missile shield.
"With the Chinese, the Russians have this marriage of
convenience," says Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a senior foreign policy
analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "It doesn't
stop their ancient grievances and suspicions, but for the moment it
suits them, because of their perception of the United States."
It may be a marriage of convenience, but it is also a marriage
that Russia has been working on for some time. More than half of
Russia's arms exports now go to China, which has ambitious plans
for military expansion as a counter to US strength in Asia. Russian
Foreign Ministry spokesmen talk about the Sino-Russian relationship
as being in its most "intensive phase" in decades.
Last week, prior to his meeting with Bush in Slovenia, Putin
traveled to Shanghai for a session of the "Shanghai Co-operation
Forum," a loosely organized political entity whose members include
China, Russia, and four central-Asian states. This semi-summit
produced a communique announcing opposition to the introduction of
even theater missile defenses in Asia.
And who was the first foreign leader Putin called after his back-
slapping chin-wag with Dubya? That's right - Chinese president
Putin briefed Mr. Jiang by phone Monday on the results of his
meeting with the US president, presumably skipping the part where
he and Bush noted that they had both named their daughters after
their mother and mother-in-law.
"Putin and Jiang elucidated the agreement between the Russian and
Chinese positions and their readiness for further cooperation,"
noted the Kremlin afterward, in the kind of brambly-dense verbiage
for which the Kremlin is justly famous.
Still, Jiang must have noted the evident warmth of the US and
Russian rhetoric over the weekend and felt a little chill himself. …