HONG KONG -- Last July, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin, solemnly signed a landmark Treaty on Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation that was little short of a military alliance. Shortly before that, the two countries, together with Kazakstan, Tajikistan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Uzbekistan established Central Asia's first security organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or SCO.

Clearly, China and Russia were planning closer cooperation in all fields, in part at least to counter American influence. The two countries in their treaty stated their determination to foster a new multipolar world order, replacing one dominated by a single superpower. A new strategic partnership had been launched.

Much has changed in the intervening months. In late May, Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush held a summit meeting and signed a treaty that announced that they were embarking upon the path of "new relations for a new century" that required the construction of strategic relations between Russia and the United States.