Monday, December 29, 2008

Moscow-Beijing set up hotline

Sometimes small stories can be an indication of bigger things.

The commanders of the Russian and Chinese militaries used a hotline set up between the two countries for the first time this week. The call itself wasn't important, really it was just to test the system, but that the hotline even exists is another indication of how China is quickly joining the ranks of the world's superpowers.

The US and Soviet Union set up the first hotline (the infamous red phone you see in the movies, though the actual “red phone” itself is dramatic license) in the 1960s after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Unclear and delayed messages between the two sides during the crisis almost lead to a nuclear war, so both countries decided they needed a way for their leaders to talk directly to each other during an emergency - the consequences of a misunderstanding were just too great. Establishing a hotline with China shows that Russia fears a similar misunderstanding with Beijing could be a disaster as well.

The United States and China agreed on the idea of a hotline between Washington and Beijing three years ago, but so far it hasn't been set up. Why it hasn't is an open question.
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