China has no great love for Russia, and when two Muscovite blondes battled it out with Georgia on the beach volleyball court during the Olympics, the crowd cheerfully supported the geopolitical underdogs.
But Beijing's foreign policy is rarely dictated by sentiment, and it is willing for the moment to see Russia give the West a slightly bloody nose.
Analysts say that to China one issue, "territorial integrity", comes before everything else, and for that reason it will never back Russia's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. To do so would be a precedent that could be easily followed in the case of Taiwan and even, one day, Tibet.
They are right - up to a point. For China's foreign ministry spokesman to express his "concern" on the issue as he did on Wednesday is indeed a mild rebuke to Moscow.
But the spokesman also stressed "the complicated history and reality of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia issue", in other words stressing that parallels need not be drawn too closely. And in the meantime, Beijing will not sniff too hard at anything which helps its stated goal of building a "multipolar world" in which America's power is balanced by that of others - including, one day, its own.
It also has a particular dislike of the sort of democratic "colour" revolutions that brought Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili to power.
A few years ago, Beijing hoped a pragmatic, anti-American Europe would be its third "pole". Alas, the European Union is as fickle as blancmange, its leaders and attitudes changing too fast for the politburo to comprehend, let alone support.
So while China does not want Russia to become a superpower again, its policy of issuing subtle challenges to American hegemony by proxy dictates Moscow must be allowed to flex its muscles.
It is a risk - even in communist times, China and the Soviet Union were more often enemies than friends - but Beijing must feel sure that it can ride the tiger. The best bet is that it will now draw back the reins, reiterating that the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is dedicated to trade and anti-terrorism, and little more.
After all, once before, when Chairman Mao met President Nixon in 1972, Beijing's diplomats showed they could shift positions and apply the pincer to their northern neighbour, to devastating effect. Now China dwarfs the Russian economy, it must be confident it could do so again if necessary.
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