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As Sino-US relations have deteriorated in 2018, Beijing has looked elsewhere in Asia for closer ties: to the Korean Peninsula, where Kim Jong-un was desperate to improve relations in order to pursue diplomacy with Donald Trump with his “back covered” and Moon Jae-in was awaiting pressure from Trump after enticing him into diplomacy with Kim that was bound to break down; to Russia, where Vladimir Putin has pleaded for an alliance or something close to it, given clarity that no matter how much Trump stands on his side, the Russo-US relationship keeps nosediving and China alone can seriously counter the deepening sanctions on Russia; and to India, where Narendra Modi has recently joined the SCO and is intent on boosting economic ties to China. Perhaps, the most surprising country on the list is Japan, where Abe has repeatedly called for improved ties to China but, simultaneously, was seen as the most consistent in trying to forge a counterbalance to China and was long vilified inside China for his revisionist and strategic thinking. Japanese sources have been closely monitoring Xi Jinping’s pursuit of Abe, notably the uptick since May.

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