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Russia, China Aim to Redraw the Political Chessboard to Contain a Dominant US

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Pentagon strategists are likely to focus this week on Moscow, where Jiang Zemin and Boris Yeltsin are meeting to map out details of an evolving Sino-Russian partnership.

The two presidents have both hailed strengthening economic, political, and military ties, and have vowed to seek consensus on the changing "world order."

"Sino-Russian relations have never been so healthy," says Igor Rogachev, Russia's ambassador to China. "Our countries are moving to create vast zones of peace in Asia." He concedes that in addition to signing a border troop-reduction pact, Mr. Yeltsin and Mr. Jiang are slated to discuss Moscow's sales of high-tech military equipment as part of the two nations' "strategic partnership."

Moscow is already China's top arms supplier, and the flow of weapons is expected to grow if Beijing decides to translate its growing economic might into military force.

Most policymakers in Washington publicly say they welcome an easing of tensions between Moscow and Beijing. But burgeoning arms sales from the world's first to its last Communist giant probably have some American planners worried, especially those who believe that history repeats itself.

For some, the renewed friendship could portend a resurgent "strategic triangle:" the changing war scenarios, countermoves, alliances, and betrayals that for decades marked ties between the US, Russia, and China. Foreign policy analysts say that in the heyday of the triangle, the world resembled a geopolitical chessboard featuring three players - Moscow, Beijing, and Washington - with each trying to checkmate one or both of its rivals.

"During that era, the security policies of each state were basically determined by the relationship between the other two," says Robert Ross, a China scholar at Harvard University.

Although allies throughout the 1950s, China and Russia became bitter rivals for dominance over the socialist bloc the following decade, and both also viewed Washington as a major threat. At the height of hostilities 30 years ago, each side prepared for an Armageddon waged simultaneously by its two rivals.

"The basic rationale for forging diplomatic ties between the US and China in the 1970s was to counter a common enemy - expanding Soviet power," says Mr. Ross.

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