Foreign Policy Digital

The New Cold War’s Warm Friends

Why Chinese and Russian detente may be here to stay.

March 2 marks half a century since Chinese troops opened fire on Soviet border guards on Zhenbao Island, a disputed but strategically irrelevant parcel of land in the Ussuri River, which divides the two countries along their far eastern border. The Chinese assault left several dozen soldiers dead and set off months of hair-trigger alerts and violent clashes along the Soviet-Chinese border.

As wars go, the Sino-Soviet clash of 1969 was mercifully contained, with probably no more than a couple hundred soldiers killed. Yet this small conflict transformed the Cold War. As a result of it, both communist powers decided that they needed to improve ties with the United States to counter each other. Over lunch in Washington, a Soviet diplomat asked a U.S. official how the

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