During the Cold War in the 1970s, United States President Nixon played the 'China Card' against Soviet Union. The 'China Card' was powerful enough to trump most anything played by America's Soviet opponents. The US won that hand. That was several decades ago.
In 2013, Red China is adeptly playing its own game of global diplomacy. China watchers have replaced yesterday's Cold War Kremlin watchers.
Modern China holds several strong cards. Global financial markets analyze each and every statistic – no matter how trivial – released by the People's Republic of China (PRC). Every move of influential members of the Communist Party of China is analyzed. Hence, when the new Chinese president makes Russia the destination of his first foreign trip, theories about the tour's significance abound. However, the reason for the visit is simple.
China is playing the 'Russia Card,' directed against the US. China is signalling to the US that the world is not completely unipolar; that public hacking allegations against the Chinese military may have consequences.
The US may be the only nation with the ability to intervene militarily in countries far from its own borders, like Iraq, but even the US has constraints. Those restraints come partially in the form of Russia and China.
To be sure, Russia and China are neighbours with shared interests. Close relations between the two erstwhile communist neighbours makes sense. Nonetheless, Russia and the US clearly feel the need to form a loose alliance against the current dominant world power. Neither country wishes to grant the US a license to ride roughshod over the world – something the US did spectacularly unsuccessfully in Iraq.
History is destined to repeat itself, often only with changed names and dates. Surely that is the case with the present Sino-Russian relationship? The American-Chinese relationship of the 1970–80s was something similar: a marriage of convenience built on a mutual mistrust of the Soviet Union. In the new millennium, a 'China-Russia' axis has been partly catalyzed by shared suspicions about US foreign policy actions.