In December 1949, Mao Zedong flew to Moscow to meet Josef Stalin. The leader of the new People’s Republic of China, which had been created just a few months earlier, was eager to join his fellow leader of the world proletariat to celebrate both the victory of communism in China and the Soviet premier’s 71st birthday. But, for Stalin, Mao was no equal. How times have changed.

In Stalin’s view, Mao was useful because he would help spread communism across Asia. So, in February 1950, the two leaders signed the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance. Mao wanted more — security guarantees against the United States and direct military backing — but Stalin was “noncommittal.” In his view, Mao was not only beneath him — a needy neighbor with delusions of grandeur — but also a liability. Closer ties with the PRC, he feared, could jeopardize the Soviet Union’s gains in Asia and lead to U.S. intervention.

Today, it is Chinese President Xi Jinping who is looking down on his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. In fact, Putin’s state visit to Beijing earlier this month — his first trip abroad since being inaugurated for a fifth term — was practically a mirror image of the Stalin-Mao encounter 75 years ago.