The White House announced on Tuesday that United States President Joe Biden would meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on June 16 in Geneva to "discuss the full range of pressing issues", as Washington seeks to "restore predictability and stability" to bilateral ties.
Given the antagonism that has accumulated between the world's two largest nuclear powers over the past months, the upcoming summit should help to reduce tensions.
Although the Biden-Putin meeting is scheduled on the heels of a G7 and then a NATO gathering, at which the participants will no doubt seek to coordinate their stances toward Russia, the fact that it has been placed on both sides' agenda is significant.
In contrast with Donald Trump's attempts to cozy up to Moscow, from the campaign trail to the White House, Biden has displayed a much tougher stance toward Putin and Russia. So the loudest message from the planned meeting is there is now a desire to cool things down. While Moscow will hope for a respite from Western sanctions, Washington will want to avoid the distraction of a continuous standoff with Russia.
There is no doubt the White House sees a greater "threat" in China, and wishes to focus US resources on containing China. But it would be wishful thinking to conclude the meeting will prove to be a dream come true for the US administration in that respect, since no analysis of the proposed summit should ignore Beijing's and Moscow's latest evaluations of their relationship.
In a Monday interview, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated "both countries" are satisfied with the mode of China-Russia cooperation. That the bilateral relationship is now at a historical high, he said, is mainly because the mode has "to some extent surpassed the level of cooperation the countries had during the Cold War under an alliance framework".
In his telephone conversation with China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi, who is in Russia participating in the 16th round of the two countries' bilateral strategic security consultation, President Putin affirmed Russia's commitment to closer strategic coordination and cooperation with China, and preservation of multilateralism and global strategic stability.
Beijing, on its part, conveyed how highly it values ties with Russia, with Yang praising them as "an example of a new type of international relations", and the Foreign Ministry saying on Tuesday that the relationship has been "toughened and hardened into gold". The Chinese are accustomed to saying something is "toughened and hardened like steel".
Any anticipation that the proposed Biden-Putin summit will damage China-Russia relations is misplaced as it proceeds from the zero-sum mentality, which, as Lavrov indicated, belongs to a bygone era.
And the strength of the China-Russia relationship that doesn't target any third parties will not be tested by either side's efforts to improve ties with the US. Nor should the US view the Sino-Russian relationship as targeting it.