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Ugly Entente

By

CHINA+RUSSIA = TROUBLE

A blossoming Sino-Russian romance is undercutting U.S. global interests on an unprecedented scale. Indeed, Russia and China seem to have their eyes on restraining European and Japanese power, too. Start with the United Nations, where Russia and China are hampering U.S.- and European Union-led efforts to address Iran's nuclear program. It's been weeks since the Security Council got official notice that Iran had violated its nonproliferation promises - yet the U.N. body has yet to manage to even condemn Tehran's actions, much less impose economic sanctions.

No surprise: Both Moscow and Beijing have way too much at stake to bully their buddy, Tehran. China has billions invested in Iran's oil/gas fields; Russia hopes to make its own billions by reprocessing Iranian reactor fuel. And both sell millions in advanced weapons to Iran.

Russian and Chinese unwillingness has also stalled the world's drive to contain and roll back North Korea's nuclear-weapons program. While Pyongyang may be an annoying, needy country cousin for Moscow and Beijing, neither minds that the issue causes nuclear-strength heartburn for Washington, exacerbating festering U.S.-South Korean alliance problems. China certainly doesn't lose sleep over North Korean missiles bore-sighted on Japan, either.

Meanwhile, both have pushed for the closing of U.S. bases in Central Asia (used to support the Afghanistan mission). They've succeeded in Uzbekistan, but so far fallen short in Kyrgyzstan.

And Russia and China last summer conducted their first-ever joint military exercises, which included 10,000 military, intelligence and internal security forces. Both capitals claimed the drills weren't aimed at any country - not that anyone in the U.S., Taiwan or Japan believed that . . . Rumors abound that another series of joint exercises is planned later this year.

Of course, Russia is fueling China's military buildup - selling billions of dollars in advanced submarines, fighters, destroyers and missiles. Just recently, Beijing purchased strategic aircraft from Russia for troop movement, air-to-air refueling and AWACS-type duties.

Just last week the world's No. 2 energy producer (Russia) signed a slew of energy deals with the world's No. 2 energy consumer (China), including a deal to build a 2,000- mile-long gas pipeline. The pacts allow Beijing, now the world's fourth biggest economy, to feed its insatiable energy appetite, while competing with energy-poor Japan for access to Russian oil/gas resources. For Russia, sales to China give it an alternative to the demanding, increasingly "Green" European market.

Moreover, both nations have been cooperating on foreign and military intelligence matters since the end of the Cold War, and are growing counterintelligence problems for the United States, Europe and Japan. With the end of Cold War-era travel restrictions, Chinese and Russian spooks see open societies as easy pickings.

According to the FBI, China is now America's greatest spy threat. But Russian intel operations - under Russian President Vladimir Putin (a former KGB Colonel) - are at an all-time, post-Berlin Wall high, too. Just last week came news of Russia giving U.S. war plans and troop-movements to the Saddam Hussein regime just before and after the 2003 invasion.

Chinese espionage rings have also been exposed in Europe, while Russia has redoubled its efforts there in recent years. And Japan's weak espionage laws make it a spy's happy hunting ground.

Everything isn't completely rosy between the two capitals: There are trade disputes and friction over mass Chinese migration into resource-wealthy Siberia. Russia has to worry about China's growing military muscle, while China's not wild about the budding Russo-Japanese rapprochement.

But the two powers share a host of concerns - on American global power and EU/NATO expansion, on Japan's growing international profile and on democratic revolutions in Europe and Asia that undermine their influence.

And Putin's Russia is nostalgic for its Soviet glory days, while President Hu Jintao's China wants to restore the all-powerful Middle Kingdom. Which means that neither country is going to be reversing course any time soon.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow. His book, "A Devil's Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States," is just out.

First appeared in the New York Post

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