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Author Pepe Escobar notes that when Russia's Star Wars-style, ultra-sophisticated S-500 air defense anti-missile system comes on line in 2018, Beijing is sure to want to purchase some version of it. Meanwhile, Russia is about to sell dozens of state-or-the-art Sukhoi Su-35 jet fighters to the Chinese as Beijing and Moscow move to seal an aviation-industrial partnership.
Those of us analysts immersed in Sino-Soviet relations in the Sixties and Seventies, when the Russians and Chinese appeared likely to persist in their bitter feud forever, used to poke fun at the Sino-Soviet treaty of Feb. 14, 1950, which was defunct well before its 30-year term.
Given the deepening acrimony, the official congratulatory messages recognizing the anniversary of the Valentine's Day agreement seemed amusingly ironic. Nevertheless, we dutifully scanned the messages for any hint of warmth; year after year we found none.
But there is another treaty now and the relationship it codifies is no joke. Just as the earlier Sino-Soviet divide was deftly exploited by an earlier generation of U.S. diplomats, clumsy actions by the more recent cast of U.S. "diplomats" have helped close that divide, even if few in Washington are aware of the significant geopolitical change that it symbolizes.
The treaty of friendship and cooperation, signed in Moscow by Presidents Putin and Jiang Zemin on July 16, 2001, may not be as robust as the one in 1950 with its calls for "military and other assistance" in the event one is attacked. But the new treaty does reflect agreement between China and Russia to collaborate in diluting what each sees as U.S. domination of the post-Cold War international order. (And that was before the U.S. invasion of Iraq and before the U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine.)
Earthquakes Begin Slowly
Like subterranean geological plates shifting slowly below the surface, changes with immense political repercussions can occur so gradually as to be imperceptible -- until the earthquake hits and the old order is shaken or shattered. For a very long time, the consensus in academe, as well as in government, has been that, despite the rapprochement between China and Russia over the past several years, both countries retained greater interest in developing good relations with the U.S. than with each other.
That was certainly the case decades ago. But I doubt that is the case now. Either way, the implications for U.S. foreign policy are immense. Anatol Lieven of King's College, London, has noted:
"Whether in the Euro-Atlantic or the Asia-Pacific, great power relations are becoming more contentious, with a loose Eurasian coalition emerging to reduce the U.S. domination of global politics. ... The consolidation of Russia's pivot to Asia is an important result of the first phase of the Ukraine crisis, which will continue to reshape the global strategic landscape.
"The U.S. has no other than Victoria Nuland, and Hillary Clinton who installed her as Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, to thank for this foolish mess."
As the folks from the old People's Daily used to say, this could "come to a no-good end."