Chinese and US officials admit that relations between their nations are hampered by disputes over trade and currency valuations, but they are at pains to point out that the difficulties are surmountable. Besides, they argue, the amount of co-operation and agreement is unprecedented, indicating perhaps the warmest period in 33 years of diplomatic relations. Any suggestion of rivalry for economic or strategic advantage is quickly quashed. The relationship, according to the official line, is beneficial to both sides. Beyond the rhetoric, though, circumstances indicate otherwise. Both nations are building alliances reminiscent less of a burgeoning partnership than of the cold war between the United States and the former Soviet Union. In the past week, the US has signed military pacts with China's long-time rivals, India and Vietnam, while President Hu Jintao on Thursday began a four-day visit to Russia with a similar agreement. China's economic rise and subsequent growth of global influence do not sit easily in Washington. US President George W. Bush's administration is eager to ensure that American interests are in no way compromised by the mainland's ever-expanding strength. The cold war split the world, with nations pledging allegiance based on the promise of benefits. The payoff for diplomatic and military support was generally economic. In the depths of the conflict, nuclear war was a constant threat. Military budgets became bloated, movement of people between nations in the alliances was restricted and distrust and suspicion were rampant. Only with the collapse of the Soviet Union, starting in 1989, was the world able to breathe more freely. Leaders vowed such a situation would never again evolve. China's and Russia's moving closer and US efforts to increase its influence in nations bordering both countries would seem to belie those promises. After Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Thursday joint military exercises later this year with China, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, in a veiled reference to the US, said Moscow and Beijing, 'with one voice declare the inadmissibility of efforts at monopolising world affairs, the dividing of states into the leaders and the led, the imposition from outside of models of social development, the application of double standards'. The US and Indian defence secretaries on Tuesday signed a 10-year agreement paving the way for joint weapons production and co-operation on missile defence. American officials last week agreed to help Vietnam train its military and work towards joint exercises. A new cold war may not be under way, but a dangerous situation is nonetheless evolving. China and the US must do their utmost not to allow their rivalry to spin out of control and again divide the world.