Two old allies the Soviet Union and China - who once formed a gigantic communist hegemony that America viewed with alarm until the alliance ruptured 30 years ago, are getting back together again. But this time, there seems to be little to fear from the cautious overtures that each side is making.
As Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visits Beijing for four days this week in an historic summit with Chinese officials, the normalization of relations may contribute to a new sense of peace and calm in the Pacific region.With what has come to be characteristic bluntness about his own country's faults and failings, Gorbachev said the Soviet Union must share the blame for the cold war that has divided the two countries for three decades.
That honesty - in sharp contrast to Soviet history since 1917 - is appealing and is responsible for Gorbachev's enormous diplomatic success around the world. It may work just as well with the Chinese.
The break between the two countries has been profound. The Soviet Union was deeply involved in China with advisers, engineers and political experts until 1959 when China threw all Soviets out of the country and turned toward its own brand of communism.
Since then, the two have been on opposite sides of most issues in the Pacific region, have had clashes along a heavily-armed 4,670-mile border, and nearly went to war over those incidents in 1969.
But a new sense of change and reconciliation is sweeping both nations. Each has abandoned some Marxist economic dogmas and each has opened doors to the West and invited Western private investment.
China was the first to take such steps, but it's ironic that Gorbachev's arrival comes in the midst of huge protests by tens of thousands of Chinese students who want more Gorbachev-like political and social reforms in their own country, even while they disrupt and protest his visit as a way of embarrassing the government.
If things turn out as the Soviet Union and China hope, there will be a new era of trade, of cultural exchanges, of normalized government and Communist Party contacts and a general thaw in relations.
But there is little likelihood that the closer ties will include any military pacts. The most each can expect is a lessoning of military tensions along their enormous border.
Chinese officials are taking great pains to let the United States know that the new Soviet links will not come at the expense of expanding China-U.S. relations.
The U.S. Navy has been invited to make a port call at Shanghai the day after Gorbachev's visit ends - just as a way of emphasizing China's ties with America.
The United States is in the interesting position of being wooed by both China and the Soviet Union and neither wants to damage the relationship. After all, American investment in China has topped $3 billion, trade in 1988 was more than $13 billion and technological and military exchanges are growing.
China and the Soviet Union want to resolve their differences, but neither wants to damage improved relations with the United States.
Caution and friendship with both countries may pay the biggest dividends for the United States, rather than continuing with the 30-year-old policy of trying to play the Soviets and Chinese against each other.