Not to be outdone by Bush's trip to India, Putin traveled on a state visit to Beijing March 21-22. This trip follows Putin's recent glowing statements of a “strategic partnership” between Russia and China. The summit already marks a step back for the Administration's drum beat on Iran. The Russians and the Chinese rejected Western drafts on Iran at the UN that they claimed opened the way for sanctions or military action.
The two powers apparently were not moved by Rice's declaration that the U.S. “would not tolerate” stalling on Iran. So much for that threat. The Beijing summit highlights two other geopolitical shifts that will test Washington.
First, the general background to and purpuse of the trip. Putin naturally seeks to offset Bush's trip to India with his own two step dance with Beijing. He has added incentive as the West increasingly speaks out against his soft rollback of democracy. Putin is aided by Asia's resistance (so far) to recreating the bi-polar rigidities of the Cold War — despite the American effort to create that framework. The Pentagon/Neocon vision of China as the new strategic threat — the vaunted (and much desired) 'peer competitor'-- requiring containment is not shared widely in Asia (except for pockets in Japan). Everyone else still wants to talk to everyone, keeping options open.
Putin comes to China bearing gifts. His poker hand is lean. He doesn't have the strategic largesse of prestige and possibility offered by Bush in New Dehli. But perhaps he may play the hand all the wiser and economy of resources focuses the mind. In addition to military technology transfer and strategic cooperation, Putin is prepared to concede and even encourage Chinese pre-eminence in the Russian market. In Moscow people talk of trippling Chinese trade with Russia from the current $20 billion level. China would be Russia's single largest trading partner.
China appreciates both the economics and geopolitics. Russian help for Chinese efforts to buffer American ambitions to contain them allows them to outflank the encirclement without derailing Chinese growing economic power and access to global markets.