For several years now, Russia and China, with very different methods, have been testing their strengths in areas each considers to be in its legitimate arc of influence.
Russia's approach is more raw, focusing on military muscle and energy supplies. China's is more nuanced, deploying its economic strength and legendary patience, while assertively probing neighbours in the East and South China seas and experimenting with the will of its biggest rival, Japan.
Western democracies, meanwhile, have been consumed by recession, the Arab uprisings in the Middle East and, in the past year, the Russian threat to Europe's eastern frontier in Ukraine.
Although it is often overlooked by the West, Russia is also an Asia-Pacific power, albeit a largely dormant one for most of the past quarter century. It shares Asian borders with China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, North Korea, Japan and the US -- from which it is separated by a roughly 4km stretch of water between islands in the Bering Strait. Moscow sponsored both the 1950-1953 Korean War and the 1965-1975 Vietnam War, and has recently been developing what it calls a "Go East" policy to re-establish itself in the Asia-Pacific.
Coupled with the continuing rise of China, Russia's re-emergence in the region, and its sharp anti-West bias, could create a problematic confluence of two forces keen to change the US-led status quo.
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