Vladimir V. Putin and Jiang Zemin are seeing a lot of each other these days. The Russian and Chinese Presidents met together with the leaders of three Central Asian nations in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on July 5. Now, Putin is heading to Beijing for a summit with Jiang on July 18-19. The goal: to solidify a strategic partnership aimed at countering American dominance on the global stage.

Both Putin and Jiang are walking a fine diplomatic line. Each leader wants strong economic ties with the U.S. and other leading industrial economies. Jiang is preparing for China's entry into the World Trade Organization, and Putin is working to make Russia more attractive to U.S. and other foreign investors. Neither Russia nor China wants to permanently damage its relationship with the U.S.

At the same time, the two Presidents are stating ever more openly their shared opposition to a world dominated by one superpower. China and Russia are "ready to play a more important role in fighting against hegemony and power politics," Jiang declared in Dushanbe. Putin has also crafted a new foreign policy doctrine that decries a "unipolar world" under U.S. dominance.

SHARED BEEFS. China and Russia already agree with each other--and oppose the U.S.--on a range of issues. They both oppose sanctions against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. They disapprove of U.S. intervention in hot spots such as Kosovo. Since NATO's bombing there, they fear that the U.S. or NATO could use humanitarian concerns as an excuse for intervening within their own borders. China's problems with Taiwan and with restive minorities in Tibet and the Muslim region of Xinjiang, and Russia's war against separatists in Chechnya, have spurred Jiang and Putin to speak out against any intervention.

For now, no issue unites Russia and China more than their opposition to U.S. plans to build a missile defense system. After an early test failed on July 7, Moscow and Beijing are stepping up efforts to delay or kill the project altogether. Putin and Jiang are likely to state their opposition once again in a joint communique at the Beijing summit. Putin may then warn President Clinton against pursuing missile defense at the Group of Eight meeting in Okinawa on July 21-23.

Should the U.S. and its allies worry about Putin's and Jiang's growing friendship? The Clinton Administration is counting on China's trade with the U.S. and Russia's need for investment to keep the two leaders from doing anything that would threaten relations with the U.S. and its allies. Still, if Russia and China coordinate their policies more, they could use their veto power on the United Nations Security Council to oppose American positions on issues ranging from Iraqi sanctions to arms control. Some observers worry about a longer-term threat as China strengthens its military arsenal. Beijing spends billions of dollars annually for Russian armaments and has recently purchased two Russian guided-missile destroyers and four submarines, as well as SU-27 and SU-30 fighter jets. The fear is that these advanced weapons could be used against U.S. forces in any conflict over Taiwan.

A viable Sino-Russian partnership has not been a reality since the depths of the cold war. But if the relationship between Putin and Jiang continues to flourish, the new U.S. President may find himself facing an increasingly confident duo vying for attention on the global stage.

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