Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after speaking to the media during a signing ceremony following their talks at The Grand Kremlin Palace, in Moscow, Russia, March 21, 2023. Credit: Mikhail Tereshchenko / Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

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The summit between China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin amounted to a love fest between a power-thirsty Communist and failed empire builder.

Xi has taken total control of his country, crushed self-rule in Hong Kong and resorts to obvious lies to justify his aggressive intent. Putin   faces an arrest warrant for kidnapping children, bombs to pieces a country that wants to face west and resorts to obvious lies to justify his aggressive intent.

China’s boss makes two sharply conflicting claims. He says that he wants to mediate a   peaceful end to the Russia-Ukraine war. Yet he favors Russia and won’t be visiting Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv. Maybe a phone call. He is openly hostile to the extension of western style democracy, just what Ukraine seeks.

Upon arriving in Moscow,   Xi stated that China and Russia shared the goal of a multi-polar world, not one under the American democratic model. While China enjoys basking in the glow of American and European prosperity, by harvesting investments and pushing cut-rate exports, it opposes the system that makes that possible.

Nuclear-armed Russia with vast territory and cheap oil for sale is becoming China’s junior partner. Xi strokes Putin’s ego and backs his efforts to keep Europe in turmoil. They may have differences, but their alliance, founded on hostility to the U.S., grows stronger.

Why does China seek to win a competition with the U.S.? For one thing, there is power for its own sake. Xi is tired of his country taking second place among world powers. Thanks to its huge population, it will soon have a larger economy than the U.S. For him, that is   just the start.

Perhaps even more important may be Xi’s worry about the global spread of popular rule under variations of the American system of government. China is controlled by the   Communist Party with no dissent allowed. That control would likely end if the people were allowed free elections. Preventing the spread of democracy and undermining its popularity is essential.

For Putin, China’s policy and his own anguish about NATO are just about the same. While NATO has no designs on Russian territory, Putin harbors his country’s   historical worry that Western Europe will invade the motherland. He wants Ukraine as Russia’s buffer, no matter what the Ukrainians want.

This is how the U.S. and its friends see the two major powers settling in as their long-term adversaries. The divide may not equal the   Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union, but it is a bitter rivalry. Beyond a matter of survival, it is a no-holds-barred competition to subvert the other side and win dominance in Asia, Africa and even Latin America.

America and Europe plus Japan (the world’s third largest national economy), Britain, Canada, Australia and South Korea together are immensely richer and more powerful than China-Russia. They are beginning to respond. For example, as Xi visited Putin in Moscow, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida   visited Zelensky in Kyiv.

The success of the response to the China-Russia challenge depends on America and its allies acting as partners. The U.S. must favor international cooperation over outmoded isolation.

As the West responds to the new challenge, it should recognize its vulnerability. Problems with democracy and free enterprise, despite their surpassing value, serve to help China and Russia to discredit them. It’s essential to see ourselves as others see us.

In what should be the world’s most prosperous country,   people who are homeless struggle for shelter and the drug economy is practically a country within a country. In some cities, the police and the people are in conflict. The problems of the third world and resulting massive immigration issues have so far revealed a leaderless and dumfounded system worldwide.

Freedom is abused by partisan politicians who undermine democracy in their own quest for power. Imagine an attack on the Capitol to overturn an election or a presidential candidate who concludes the Ukraine war is merely a “territorial dispute” or politicians who tamper with voting to guarantee their permanent hold on office.

Big corporations and their wealthy ruling class   avoid paying for their privileges and oppose reasonable regulations. That leaves government strapped for funds to provide essential services and   unable to prevent bank failures or nail tax cheats. Greed overcomes loyalty, endangering the people the government is supposed to represent and serve.

To some degree, the biggest challenge comes more from ourselves than from our avowed adversaries. I always remember the admonition of my favorite mythical presidential candidate, the long-ago comic strip’s   Pogo Possum: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

The Xi-Putin meeting unveiled their united hostility to Western values and their intent to defeat our hopes and ambitions. It should also motivate the West to enhance and promote those values in deed as well as word.

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.