Decades after their previous treaty collapsed amid border clashes and disagreements over doctrine, Russia and China once again pledged to each other friendship and "eternal peace" Monday, challenging what they see as the threat of a new global order dominated by the United States.
A 25-point agreement signed in a Kremlin hall by Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin was not exactly a reprise of the 1950 anti-imperialist military pact between Josef Stalin and Mao Tse-tung.
Neither side mentioned military cooperation, and both stated that their understandings should not pose a threat to any third country.
Nevertheless, the fundamental message of the treaty, sealed by a bear hug between a beaming Putin and Jiang, is that the two behemoths of Eurasia intend to support each other in a global community now dominated by Washington.
"This treaty pertains primarily to the relationship between China and the Russian Federation," Putin said. "But we also assume that the treaty will be an important element in contemporary international relations."
"It is a milestone in the development of Russian-Chinese relations," Jiang said.
Despite protestations to the contrary, the leaders clearly have in mind a specific country that the treaty is meant to impress, said Alexander Yakovlev, a top China expert at the Russian Academy of Science's Far East Institute.
"Diplomats know any such treaty is always signed with a clear understanding about who is the real adversary," Yakovlev said. "The signatories claim they are fighting against hegemony. . . . Everyone in the world knows who the embodiment of hegemony is--the U.S. and its allies."
At the White House, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer downplayed the treaty.
"We are not in the world we used to be where it's a zero-sum game anymore, and if Russia and China find ways to cooperate peacefully and make the world a more secure and stable place, that's in the United States' interests," he said.
"Just because Russia and China have entered into an agreement, it does not necessarily mean it's something that would be adverse to the interests of the United States," Fleischer said.
In the treaty, Moscow stated that it fully supports China's claims to Taiwan, which China considers a rebellious province. Beijing in turn said it recognizes Russia's territorial integrity and supports the methods Russia is using to maintain its territory, an allusion to the war Moscow is waging against separatists in Chechnya, a conflict that has been much criticized in the West.
Besides the treaty itself, Putin and Jiang issued a series of declarations outlining similar positions on key global issues, including the need to preserve the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty that President Bush wants to abrogate or modify.
Russia and China have been highly critical of Bush's proposed national missile defense, which would violate the ABM Treaty. Coincidentally, their signing ceremony took place only two days after a successful test by the Pentagon of an antimissile missile over the Pacific Ocean.
Although Moscow has been the loudest international critic of Bush's missile shield proposal, Russian officials point out that China--with its relatively small nuclear force--has the most to lose.
The new Sino-Russian treaty has a life span of 20 years and will be automatically renewed for five years after that if neither side withdraws. It amounts to a new special relationship between Beijing and Moscow--culminating a thaw begun in 1989 under the last Soviet leader, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, and continued by former Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin.
With the exception of China's 1961 treaty with North Korea, the new pact is the only bilateral friendship treaty that China has with any country. It means that past irritants in the relationship from the 1960s through the '80s have been laid aside. Putin pointed out that there are only two small lingering disagreements as to the exact demarcation of more than 2,000 miles of shared borders.
In one of their statements, Putin and Jiang said they hoped to create a "just and rational new international order" to reflect their concept of a "multipolar" world led by the United Nations.
Neither country is currently in a position to strongly antagonize the United States.
For China, the United States is a huge customer and source of direct foreign investment. For Russia, the United States is a key factor in the country's international security and its hopes to more closely integrate with Western Europe.
Russian-Chinese trade last year totaled a mere $8 billion, compared with $115 billion in trade between China and the United States.
However, China is strongly reliant on Russia in one major category--weapons. It buys fighter jets and other military technology, augmenting its profile as a rising East Asian regional power.
In the agreement, Putin and Jiang vowed to expand economic cooperation in oil and gas, energy, aircraft building, communications and new technologies. Nothing specifically was mentioned about military sales, though officials of both countries said that could be assumed.
In case of an external threat to either country, the two states would hold immediate emergency consultations. But the treaty stopped short of requiring mutual assistance.
At the time Stalin and Mao signed their 1950 treaty, the Soviet Union was clearly the dominant partner--dispatching political and military advisors and hardware to shore up China's then-fledgling Communist regime. Now it is unclear who is the stronger. China's population is nearly 10 times as large as Russia's. By some estimates, China's military forces will surpass Russia's in technological capability within two decades.
After signing the treaty Monday, Jiang visited Yeltsin, Russia's first democratically elected president, who recently vacationed in China and remains well liked by the Chinese leadership.
The Russian-Chinese accord came on the heels of Friday's decision by the International Olympic Committee, meeting in Moscow, to award the 2008 Summer Games to Beijing.
Times staff writer Edwin Chen in Washington contributed to this report.