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The first time Xi Jinping met Vladimir Putin after ascending to China’s presidency, he told the Russian leader: “I feel like our personalities have a lot in common.” That was in March 2013. Five years later, we can see the extent to which this has proved true. The two men have shown a mutual fondness for military uniforms, being filmed eating in restaurants with ordinary folk, and now, apparently, lifetime rule. Last week Beijing announced that a two-term limit for the presidency would be removed from China’s constitution. Meanwhile, in Moscow, Mr Putin is coasting comfortably into an election for a fourth term. The two countries have other things in common: they share the distinction of being labelled revisionist powers that present a significant military threat to the US, according to the Pentagon’s 2018 national defence strategy. “Great-power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of US national security,” said defence secretary Jim Mattis, speaking at the document’s release. Both Russia and China have nurtured special spheres of influence that rankle the US (Ukraine and the South China Sea, respectively). Both have vaguely defined projects to integrate the Eurasian landmass (the Eurasian Economic Union, and the Belt and Road Initiative), not to mention large armies. America’s obsession with Russia and China echoes its interest in the Sino-Soviet bloc, which ended in the 1960s with the two countries fighting a border war in 1969. Today, Russia and China are well into the third decade of a post-cold war relationship and are flirting with the idea of a new alliance. Is this rapprochement simply a marriage of convenience or a new model of “Eurasian” authoritarianism to challenge Washington? Alexander Lukin, a Russian scholar of China, takes up the question in a bold new book explaining the Russia-China project and where it is headed. Lukin sets out to slay several myths about the Russia-China relationship, which, he says, tends to be viewed through the prism of whatever is the going theory of international relations. Those who see the world as a balance of power spy an alliance in the making. Their opponents focus on the distrust and diverging interests that separate Moscow and Beijing. China, for example, clearly has more at stake in its relationship with Washington than with Moscow. Last year saw Mr Xi lionised at Davos for championing globalism. Meanwhile Russia is increasingly focused inward, seeing China as a demographic threat, according to the naysayers. Lukin takes issue with the scholars who see mistrust blocking the Russia-China relationship. But he also insists that a full, military alliance is unlikely. Instead, he argues the countries are united in pressing for changes to an international system that has given them less than they feel they deserve. If the Pentagon is correct to call the nations “revisionist”, Lukin assigns the blame back to Washington, which he says has handed them a permanently subordinated role, while steadily encroaching with a military alliance system that threatens their borders. “In the view of Moscow and Beijing it is the US that is trying to take the entire world unipolar and turn it into its own monopolistic sphere of influence by imposing on others its values, which it proclaims as universal,” he writes. “What Moscow and Beijing are trying to achieve is not spheres of exclusive influence, where they will be able to do as they please without any interference from the outside world, but an international agreement on a new set of rules, which would suit the interests not only of the US and its allies but of other major international players.” Lukin also believes the Ukraine crisis has accelerated the Russia-China rapprochement, pushing Moscow to seek economic opportunities in China in the wake of western sanctions. China’s efforts to develop a high-tech weapons system to counter the US military’s edge has, in turn, seen them seek more Russian assistance. But while Lukin describes what Russia and China are against, it is evident that neither has articulated clearly what kind of changes they are seeking to make a world of diverse power centres more equitable. What those power centres would do, if they had their way, remains a conundrum. The reviewer is the FT’s Beijing correspondent China and Russia: The New Rapprochement, by Alexander Lukin, Polity Press, RRP£55, 272 pages