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During the Cold War (1949-1991), international relations in East Asia were based upon strategic competition between China, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Regional security was shaped by a strategic triangle between these three powers in which the three bilateral relationships hinged upon each state’s relationship with the remaining nation. These nations recognized that at any time the other nations of the triangle were capable of using force. Therefore, their security perceptions were based around attempting to exact as much military and diplomatic leverage as possible. To circumvent miscalculation, the United States and the Soviet Union attempted to manipulate China in order to balance power in their favor in Asia. China sought to act as a balance between these two superpowers, trying to prevent any superpower hegemony from arising in Asia.

As states at any time could use force, all nations had to constantly prepare and be prepared to use force. The interaction between nations; and the positions these nations occupied vis-à-vis each other defined relations. Power and perception of power governed the actions of these states. Furthermore, force dominated and a hierarchy of power existed internationally; that is, great powers were identifiable. The system of international relations centralized power in China, the Soviet Union, and the United States.

Some scholars contend that the end of the Cold War marks the end of this model of theoretical relations in Asia, pointing to economic interdependence and mutual understanding brought about by Globalization as the basis for relations in the emerging world order. Although the end of the Cold War eliminated the fundamental conflict between the 1st and 2nd worlds; it neither created trust and mutual understanding, nor eliminated power perception. Advances in telecommunications, transportation, information exchange, and the advent of the Internet has decreased the size of the world and extenuated the importance of economic policy. However, economics remains only a single element of a nations security planning. Fundamentally, the nature of strategic planning has not been altered. Rather the relative importance of the economic variable in the function determining power perception has grown. As Suisheng Zhao writes:

Military strength has by no means vanished as a key element of power competition in the post-Cold War era. Nevertheless, as more and more nations [come] to recognize both military and nonmilitary threats, the concept of power competition [has] widened. New dimensions, notably economic, moral (cultural), and environmental, [are] included in the security concerns of national leaders.

The strategic triangle that dominated the structure of international relations that existed during the Cold War is still a valid description of the structure of contemporary East Asian international relations. Rather than eliminating the previous system of relations, the end of the Cold War and Globalization temporarily delinked the strategic triangle. Although the Soviet Union’s physical and philosophical directions were uncertain when it collapsed, the establishment of an autonomous, nationalistic state did not alter Russia’s considerations and perceptions in and of Asia. Therefore, since the re-establishment of the Russian State, the bilateral associations between the major regional powers (China, Russia, and the United States) have dominated relations in East Asia. China and the United States, (uncertain of the direction of the former Soviet Union), could not respond to the changing world with the creation of a fundamentally new system. Although the United States’ attempts to apply liberal principles are illustrated by developments in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Western human rights conventions in Geneva, and the application of human rights to Chinese admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO), these initiatives failed to impact national security assessment practices. When Russia returned to the international arena possessing the same theoretical assessment system as its predecessor, both China and the United States reentered the system of balance of power politics, recreating the great powers’ relations system of the Cold War in the post-Cold War international order.

A Sino-Russo axis or alignment characterizes the orientation of the nations in this strategic triangle. These two nations are acting together in ways to challenge the Uni-polar hegemon (the United States). Through military exchange, planning and coordination; increased trade, capital flows, labor migration, and Far Eastern Co-development; and geopolitical agreement they are seeking to forge a new and collaborative relationship. Recognizing that this relationship is constrained by the two nations’ reliance on the United States, this relationship can not be deemed as an alliance. However, it is important to recognize that together, these two nations are orchestrating a future path more independent of the United States. The argument that these two nations can not nor could oppose the United States, due to their reliance, presupposes that these two nations may circumvent the restrictions on policy choice placed on them through the evolution of a new partnership.


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