Comrade Xi

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I hear that you want to be a peace maker in the war with Ukraine.
You have, obviously, no shame, sir, not a shred of it.
You have encouraged Putin to kill thousands of Ukrainians and destroy their infrastructure,
while helping him sacrifice thousands of his own people. That’s children without fathers, without uncles, spouses without husbands.
So why do you want to be a peace maker?
Your aggrandizement?
Recently you chose to break with custom in China and pushed your party to elect you to a third term. Two terms weren’t enough for your big ego. You needed another one and probably two more so you can die in office like your great hero, Mao Zedong who, as everyone knows, was no great gift to humanity.
So you’re just like Putin. Not a shred better. We certainly can ask the Uyghurs in Xinjiang province and the dissidents in Hong Kong and I’m sure they’ll have something to say about it.
And we all know that this is part of your preparation to invade Taiwan. When the time comes, you’ll move to destroy everything they’ve built just so can tell your folks that you’ve unified China. Never mind the cost. Putin will be cheering for you, of course. Providing ‘logistical support’, as in, ‘don’t do anything against my “friend forever” Xi or I’ll fire my nuclear weapons’.
Comrade, you just don’t get that what the Taiwanese really want is their freedom to live as they choose. To have elections so if they don’t like a leader they can remove him or her from power. Of course, you wouldn’t dream of having elections. Too advanced for your political system.
But don’t get too comfortable about taking over Taiwan, because the West may have a little surprise waiting for you. Just make a note.
Meanwhile, in the South China Sea you’re bullying the Philippines, encroaching brazenly into their nautical space.
And I have no doubt that when Kim Jong Un from North Korea calls you to let you know he’s about to fire another missile over Japan, you say, ‘Go ahead, guy, let’s keep the Japanese and Americans on the edge of their seats.’
But shouldn’t you also help feed the North Koreans? Because we’ve been hearing their food supplies are running low. Nothing new, though. They’ve had thousands of people die from starvation before. Are you going to lend a hand?
So sorry, here I am getting distracted from my main topic. Understandable, because there’s so much to talk about. Like, for instance, how Chinese courts favor your companies in patent disputes with western companies. Never mind the balloon you were flying over Montana, which just happened to be above some of our nuclear silos.
Comrade, now you want to play peace maker. After you’ve supported Putin you want to come in and say, ‘let us all embrace, be friends again, kiss, kiss, and bring joy to your families.’
Of course, as part of any peace accord, Putin must keep Eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
So, no. Your story is just not believable. You are not believable. Or trustworthy. I’m sure your move to bring peace plays well at home, and that the millions and millions of Chinese you have scared into not finding their voice, will jump in joy that their great leader will bring harmony to the world.
Get serious, man.
Want to do something for humanity? Tell Putin to back off. To apologize to Ukraine and to the world. To get on his knees and beg forgiveness.
But you won’t do it.
It’s not in you.
So how long will the fight go on?
It’s up to Ukraine. It’s their land. It’s their people doing the dying. It’s their quest for freedom.

When Will The War End?

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There is no way of realistically predicting that time but the more relevant question is, how will the war end?
I see two main camps at this point. One stating that we should hurry up and look for a deal enabling the contending parties to put down their weapons. Another saying there will be no talks until Russia has left Ukraine entirely, including Crimea, which they took over in 2014.
Zelensky is a strong advocate of the latter option.
And it makes sense.
Pushing Putin out of Ukraine entirely would be a complete victory.
So long as Ukraine is willing to put in the heroic effort, the West should back them up.
The West needs to take the long view and make the necessary sacrifices. The advantages are enormous.
A deterred Russia is more likely to see the anti Putin ferment rise and eventually lead to the deposing of Putin.
An increasingly united West will help work out internal differences and hasten the path to energy independence. The western alliance has the intellectual/technological/industrial capacity to accomplish the task.
A complete Russian retreat from Ukraine has important consequences for China’s present leadership. It will be clear to all Chinese that the global West, in mustering the resources needed to assist Ukraine, will be ready to make the same commitment to aid Taiwan.
The Chinese people are a capable people but the present leadership is preventing their political maturation. Xi Jinping is another Vladimir Putin, likely to be as truculent, murderous and brutal as the Russian in his effort to keep himself in power.
The Chinese communist party has been able to control the population only because of its repression of freedom of speech. When the Chinese people gain such freedom, all their potential will be unleashed to the benefit of their nation and the world.
The US has been broadcasting into China through Radio Free Asia ( in Mandarin, Cantonese, Uyghur and other languages. Chinese authorities consistently jam the transmissions so this needs to be improved.
China will retaliate, of course but they won’t be able to wall off their country.
A steady flow of information from the free world will be critical to create the necessary conditions in China so they begin to move toward democracy.
Both Russia and China are fond of looking at the West and saying ‘Look at all the chaos that you have.’ But free societies learn to face those conditions and find answers to them, spurring civic growth as a result.
The heroic effort of Ukraine is opening a new path for nations to cooperate and rid the world of the devastating consequences of dictatorial regimes.
A word about Zelensky and his tenure as president of Ukraine. New elections for the post will not be held until the end of March 2024. Zelensky is permitted to run again.
Will the war have ended by then?
I hope so.
If it has not, the holding of such an important election should be postponed. It would be very difficult for the opposition to campaign while the nation is at war.
Zelensky should then say that he will continue as president only until the end of the war and not run again. And the nation should set a limit for such tenure, say a year or two at the most, if war were to drag on further.
Where would Zelensky go next?
I believe he would do a great job as head of the United Nations.
One of his tasks ought to be to lead the effort to redraw the terms of the body’s charter, so as to not allow countries like Russia and China to hold veto power in the UN’s Security Council.
The world needs to break the chains to authoritarian governments.

A China Russia Split?

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Is it possible? What would it take?
For one, Putin seriously threatening the West with nuclear weapons, since it would imply China allowing the Russian to set the agenda, thus leaving China open to retaliation from the West.
But there’s another reason a split between the two is possible.
Internal dissension in China over Xi Jinping’s ambition to rule until his death.
Xi has miscalculated.
He has assumed that the remainder of the high ranking Communist party officials will be content bowing to his highness until the end of their lives.
The days of Mao Zedong and ruling forever are gone.
‘What about me?’ will ask the very ambitious in the politburo who are forced to suppress their aspirations. ‘I would like to govern, too, and be at the pinnacle for at least a term. Why should Xi get all the goodies for ever and ever? There are other deserving people, too, so we should get a chance to compete for the top post.’ But Xi has said to them, ‘no, I’m top dog and you lick my paws.’
And these ambitious and pushed aside Chinese, filled with resentment for the overbearing Xi, will think about the virtues of parliamentary systems in the West wherein mistakes in leadership are punishable by ousting. You’re in one week but make a bad mistake the next and you’re out the following (i.e, Liz Truss in England recently).
These same ambitious Chinese in the Politburo will think again about democracy in America, a system riddled with problems, a system they love to bad mouth, but where Trump could not stay in power. A system that has investigated the man publicly and where his chances of regaining the presidency are now gone.
These same ambitious Chinese in the Politburo are now looking at Russia and seeing how Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has left a horrible impression in the world, with China clearly viewed as his main accomplice.
But while Putin has domesticated the majority of citizens, hundreds of thousands of Russians found the nerve to tell him ‘go screw yourself, Putin, we’re out of here, we’re leaving because you’ve gone mad and you want us to sacrifice our lives for your inflated ego. But we will not, for we can clearly see through your crap.’
And just like that, a vital section of the most productive members of that society have left the nation and chosen to make their contributions elsewhere.
The sad and tragic spectacle of Putin ordering the butchering of Ukrainians, day after day, is telling the ambitious Chinese in the politburo, that it’s bad business to have so much power concentrated in one person because, inevitably, that person will make decisions without the feedback of other people’s expertise, and some of those decisions will be disastrous.
And the ambitious Chinese in the politburo will not feel good bowing to his highness Xi, certain that sooner or later he will screw up just like Putin has.
Xi’s Zero Covid Policy’s failure is a telling reminder of how much can go wrong.
And does an ill timed invasion of Taiwan not seem a possibility?
How forgiving will the Chinese people be if an invasion of Taiwan results in fierce resistance by the Taiwanese with thousands and thousands killed day after day, all because Xi thought it was the right time to take over the island and underestimated the commitment to freedom of the islanders?
Putin’s enormous failure in Ukraine may be bringing the ambitious Chinese in the politburo to their senses.
Power concentrated in one person without the benefit of feedback is bad business.
Power that doesn’t get to rotate is not good.
Competition is important in every human endeavor. Only through competition is the best selected. And because influencing the affairs of human beings is a complex affair, rulers need to be exposed to a great deal of feedback.
Which is why free speech is critical.
The ambitious Chinese members in the politburo will think these thoughts even if they will be hesitant to propose needed reforms for fear of upsetting his highness Xi.
But they will resent Xi Jinping’s power grab.
And they need only look to Russia and the disaster in Ukraine to realize it could happen to China, too.
So why wait?
Why not start working to remove Xi Jinping – the usurper – from power as soon as possible?

PS – After leading Britain to victory with the rest of the allied forces in WWII, Winston Churchill ran for office again and lost. The Brits said, ‘Thanks, brother. We appreciate it. Now let’s get someone else.’

The Power of Xi

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He sits alone in his office. Reflecting on the condition of the world, his position, the war in Ukraine, the futility of free speech and other matters.
He’s feeling strong. China has emerged. He’s just been elected to a third 5 year term as leader of China. A fourth term will likely follow, and maybe a 5th, if he feels up to it, as he’s sure he can keep his rivals in check. In fact, he would like to die in office, like Mao Zedong before him.
He can imagine the entire China going into mourning for a week, whenever he dies, with continuous speeches paying homage to his greatness as multitudes wail uncontrollably.
He thinks of Elon Musk, his travails with Twitter, and how he’s lost the position as richest man in the world.
Musk was the richest but he, Xi Jinping, is the most powerful, for he commands the second strongest economy, soon to surpass America’s and leave them far behind.
He, Xi Jinping, a name that is already part of the history of mankind and about whom books and books will be written, does not have to worry about the legalities that constrain the president of the United States.
For instance, he can call up Elon Musk and tell him, ‘You need to appoint a Chinese administrator to lead Tesla here in China. You’re getting a little too distracted with your affair with Twitter and I don’t want to worry about that.’
Musk might answer, ‘Well, I have my people who I have confidence in…’
‘You’re not hearing me,’ Xi would interrupt, “I need a Chinese administrator with full executive privileges… Now… and my preference is that he be a member of the Chinese Communist Party. You have a great company, one that we can keep learning much from, but you’re spreading yourself too thin and I don’t like it. Understood?’
To which Musk might reply, ‘I hear you… but I have investors I have to answer to… complex technical matters to address… it’s not as easy as you think…’
‘That’s why you would be at his disposal,’ Xi would say, ‘so you can answer what questions he/she may have during the transition…’
Musk would counter, ‘The change you propose is equivalent to a transfer of power… I’m not ready for that… and that would not go over well with the foreign business community in China… there would be significant repercussions worldwide… it would affect the entire Chinese economy…’
But Xi would insist, ‘Mr Musk… we are ready… China is ready… we fear no one… we have the markets and all the nations of the world who prefer to be governed by autocracies, who don’t want to be bothered with the details of free speech… and who are in the majority.’
Musk might reply, ‘I would need time to think about it… I can’t give you an answer now…’
‘This discussion does not have to be made public… If it pleases you…’ Xi would continue.
‘Do you intend to have this type of arrangement with other foreign businesses?’ Musk may ask.
And Xi would return, ‘You do not need that information.’
Musk again, ‘I mean, Tesla has been very cooperative with China… so I don’t see why I should be treated this way…’
Xi would then play hard ball, ‘The world is changing rapidly Mr Musk… and you have chosen to provide valuable Star Link support to the Ukrainian resistance, enabling satellite communications for their military, which is hurting my good friend Putin’s heroic effort to defend his beloved Russia from the brutality of Western aggression.’
Musk stalling, ‘I see… and if I stop providing such satellite support you would not be interfering with Tesla?’
Xi, smelling victory, ‘It just might affect my judgment, let’s put it that way. There comes a time when businesses must choose, in the interest of the future of the world. China and Russia have common goals. We believe that personal freedoms must be surrendered for the higher purpose of having a caring, benevolent ruling class. Autocracies are the way forward. We are right and democracy is wrong. Ukraine must be squashed. Eliminated. Your assisting them is not aligned with our overall objectives. But you do not have to reply this minute. I will give you 24 hours. Have a good day.’

Xi reflects on the conversation he might have with the former richest man in the world.
He feels ready for it. And why not?
Nothing will stop China. Soon enough he will take over Taiwan. Much sooner than the West is expecting. And following the example of Putin, he will rain thousands of missiles on the island. Never mind where they land. Until they drop to their knees.
Long live, Xi!

The Winds of Freedom are Blowing

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There was something vulgar about the way Chinese police detained a protester, as seen in a widely circulated video. A young man, he was carrying a sign that said, ‘Chinese people need to be braver.’
Three security agents apprehended him and dragged him into a police vehicle. I wonder how long it will be before he resurfaces.
Demonstrations against the strict Covid quarantines continue in various cities and the communist party will do whatever it needs to suppress them.
That was the bargain the Chinese people made with their rulers. You, the party, ensure us a measure of prosperity and we will surrender our voices.
But the Chinese people weren’t counting that the time would come when the communist party would say to them, ‘this is how it’s done, whether you like or not.’ And add, ‘we are the governing class. We get to decide what direction your life should take. Not you.’
Under the severe strictures of quarantines, the Chinese have had time to think. ‘Just what is so special about Xi Jinping and his followers? If Chinese people’s labor, intelligence and creativity have lifted the nation, why should we not get more credit for it? When difficult matters come up, why shouldn’t our voices be heard? Didn’t we just launch a rocket that will take Chinese astronauts to our own space station? That was Chinese brains and muscle doing the work, not the ideology of the communist party, or Xi Jinping’s Thought (the widely distributed booklet about the pure wisdom of the nearly celestial leader).’
‘Chinese people need to be braver’ said the sign carried by the protester.
It hit home with his fellow citizens. And so they are asking themselves, shouldn’t we have the right to have our own ideas as to how to govern ourselves?
Why can’t we have elections like other developed nations?
And just what has Xi Jinping done to deserve to be our leader?
The Chinese people are starting to think politically. They are squaring with the fact that they are at the mercy of the Chinese communist party.
Why should they surrender their voices?
Why shouldn’t their opinions be heard, or written in the blank, white sheets of paper that have become the emblem of the protest.
Communist party ideology now has it that China should rise to rule the world. But first they should take over Taiwan so that they can be whole as a people. But taking over Taiwan won’t make China whole. Just like taking over Hong Kong doesn’t either. There is nothing the Taiwanese are now doing that is interfering with the development of China. Nothing at all. The Taiwanese are just busy living their lives. And the small island is enjoying the distinction of being one of the world’s leaders in the production of microchips. They are no threat to any nation at all. But because the Chinese in the mainland have surrendered their political minds to Xi Jinping and his henchmen, the communist party can make the conquering of Taiwan an absolute necessity.
It is all lies.
So why did the courageous demonstrator hold up the sign saying, ‘Chinese people need to be braver,’? Because he wanted his fellow citizens to think. And he has risked his life for it.
We may never see him again. He will probably be sentenced to years in prison or end up in a reeducation camp, like Uyghurs in Xinjiang province, until he withers away.
But his fellow citizens would do well to remember his heroic act, and to ponder what he had written on the other side of the sign, the side we didn’t get to see because the goon squad took him away.
‘Chinese people need to be braver,’ said one side, ‘So we can find our freedom,’ said the other.
The winds of freedom are blowing.
They are blowing from Ukraine.
They have reached Iran.
Now China.
Fight on, brave Chinese, for the world is counting on you.

On China. We Have Our Differences

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Take the Covid 19 pandemic. We know it started in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019, but their leadership chose not to quickly contact the World Health Organization (WHO). Instead they suppressed reports by their own doctors, the first one reporting dying from the disease.
Time was critical but wasted because of China’s secrecy. If there had been openness from the start, a better organized response by all nations would have been possible. It would have led to vastly fewer deaths.
China has also rejected importing western vaccines based on MRNA technology and considered of better quality than the ones they’ve produced.
Their pride gets in the way of their own good.
Their insistence on self reliance has had significant economic consequences as well.
Their policy of strict quarantines in the management of Covid 19 has affected mobility and negatively impacted commerce, leading investors to begin to pull out of the country.
And yet the People’s Republic of China has set the pursuit of self reliance as their national goal. In other words, the Chinese believe they won’t need anyone.
Or are they just very angry at everyone?
‘Why are we not number one yet?’
‘Why did Trump put tariffs on our products?’
Well, because your cheaper products were contributing to unemployment in the US and America had not learned to deal effectively with the problem. Time was needed in the adjustment to globalization.
‘Why aren’t you (the West) not letting Huawei, our state supported electronics company, upgrade your communications infrastructure?’
Because we don’t trust that you won’t use those systems to spy on us.
You already have a history of forced technology transfers from western companies doing business in your land and a history of extensive cyberwarfare to steal secrets from us.
So why should we think it will be any different with Huawei?
You have a long history of censorship of your people, severely restricting freedom of speech and closely monitoring their activities.
Your communist party obviously doesn’t like having any competition.
We, on the other hand, believe competition is central to our wellbeing.
So, no, you can’t have Taiwan. No, because they are a free people and it’s taking them a lot of work to get there. They deserve what they’ve worked for. They don’t deserve falling under the regimentation of your party.
And yet, the West is impressed with all that China has accomplished. You keep building ships and trains and electric cars and sent a satellite to look at the dark side of the moon.
Very good.
But your people are not free.
That’s a huge difference for us.
You’re a strong supporter of Putin and his war against Ukrainians. That’s a lot of killing that Putin has done. And you support the tyrants in Myanmar, also. In other words, where there is a dictator oppressing people, you’re right there to offer assistance.
As things stand, then, you have a long way to becoming number one.
Mind you, because you are a smart people you may surprise us all. Time will tell.
We in the West have a lot of problems, too. Difficulty in communication being one of them. So we need to work hard also.
Right now we’re going through a specially difficult phase. While we talk a lot we haven’t been doing enough listening.
One of our presidents tried to overturn the results of a free election and now he’s announced he will run again. Unbelievable.
To our credit, however, America did not choose him in 2020.
In China, your citizens can’t say, ‘we’ve had ten years of Xi Jinping, we need to look at someone else’. You can’t do that. The party makes sure the Chinese people keep their mouths shut.
In China, they don’t even get the full story of the forced labor camps for the Uyghurs in Xinjiang province. Or the brutal repression of the Hong Kong dissenters. And I’m sure they’re not getting the full picture of all the atrocities Putin is committing in Ukraine.
Why, then, should you be number one in the world?
But we’ll keep listening.
I promise, we’ll listen to all your complaints about our mistakes and your belief that we’re in the midst of inevitable decadence.
But we differ here, too. We’re of the view that national growth requires a lot of effort and yet the outcome is hard to predict. Sometimes things move positively, sometimes negatively. But so long as the trend is upward we’re okay. A bit like the stock market. We just have to keep betting on our people.
Also, many of us believe that no matter our present differences, we should not keep your students from coming to America’s schools, should they want to, even if they go back and decide to join the communist party.
Why? Because it just could be, that something about freedom will stay with them, and who knows, that might end up helping China mature and the world become a better place.
So let’s keep talking. Talk is good. Listening, is even better.
In the end, people everywhere, want to be free.
Not ruled by a repressive regime.
The winds of freedom from Ukraine have reached Iran.
That’s not too far from where you are.

A Chinese and an American Talk Politics

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The Chinese, Haitao, is a physicist, the American, Bill, a mathematician. They know each other from graduate school in the US. Haitao returned to Shanghai and is employed in cloud computing by a state owned enterprise, while Bill presently works in the Netherlands in a microchip manufacturing company. They ran into each other at a conference in London.
They sit at a table in a street side café.

Bill – The 20th Communist Party Congress has just started. You think Xi will be reelected for a third term?
Haitao – No doubt. He has done a great job cleaning out corruption and the people admire him.
My worry is that he is too autocratic.
Bill – He will go for a 4th term?
Haitao (laughs) – Probably. And a fifth. Will die in office, like his idol Mao.
Bill – You think China will keep growing the way it has?
Haitao – Yes. Maybe slow down a little but not much. One of the things we have found is a sense of purpose. You don’t have that.
Bill – You mean a sense of purpose as a nation?
Haitao – Exactly.
Bill – And what would that be?
Haitao – To become the dominant nation in the world.
Bill – Dominant?
Haitao – Yes. We want to be number one. And we’re willing to sacrifice our personal freedom.
I know freedom is very important to you, but most Chinese are willing to sacrifice it for a higher cause. We have never been number one. You have been number one for a long time. Now you take it for granted.
Bill – Our system allows for very diverse creativity, in many fields, and the limited governmental interference facilitates development. You’ve had enormous growth with companies like Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, but now the government has chosen to direct their future growth. Don’t you think that will end up having a negative impact on inventiveness?
Haitao – It could. The government is experimenting, so we have to wait and see. Xi has been very clear about the importance of shared prosperity. In America, you talk about that but are very slow to do it. You have Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security but it’s not enough. There’s a lot of poverty in America. We watch you very closely so we can learn from you. Learn what not to do.
Bill – The distribution of riches, how to do it well without diminishing the creative drive, has been a problem for us. We keep going back and forth on that but there is steady progress in strengthening the safety net.
Haitao – Europeans are ahead of you.
Bill – But there is a stronger enterprising drive in America.
Haitao – To what purpose?
Bill – To become all we can be… maximizing the person’s possibilities.
Haitao – See, that’s the difference between you and us. In China, we think more of the collective. You think more of the individual.
And because of that difference, we now have a national purpose, which you do not.
Bill – I disagree. We want to protect the individual’s liberty, their right to create and acquire wealth… and many wealthy people become philanthropists… and give their money to various causes…
Haitao – That is weak, compared to having a national purpose. The benefit of having such purpose is that it commits the citizens to the task and expects from them that they sacrifice for it. No other nation has progressed so fast in 40 years since Deng Xiaoping began China’s opening to the world. We have taken advantage of everything possible… borrowed and stolen, too… but we have created also… and we have now great confidence in our capacities… and faith that we will become the number one nation in the world very soon.
Bill – How soon?
Haitao – At our current pace, I’d say, in 15 years. Max.
Bill – That’s a short time.
Haitao – We are not afraid of you, anymore. We study you closely, and we see how you can’t agree on things. Your lack of national discipline is frightening. We now have a bigger navy than you do. We don’t want to be like you, anymore. We did before, but not now. We don’t have mass shootings in our country. We don’t have an immigration problem. We don’t have the homelessness that makes your cities ugly. We don’t have racial issues, or just a little bit, but not like you.
In our country, politics is orderly, in your country it’s a circus and a waste and money and energy and talent. It is pitiful to watch it.
Bill – And Taiwan?
Haitao – It’s ours. We will not make the mistake that Putin made in Ukraine. But Russia is a second rate power. When the leadership decides it’s time to take Taiwan, we’ll encircle it and take it. It will be quick. For you to intervene will be too costly, so you’ll stay away and curse your weakness.
Bill – You’re pretty cocky about your power?
Haitao – We will always be friends, Bill, but as a nation, the time for China to replace you as number one is fast approaching. You’ll just have to live with it.
Bill – I think you’re underestimating our strengths…
Haitao – America has grown too fat and overconfident.
Bill – We could surprise you… we’re known for coming together when we have to.
Haitao – There’s always that possibility… but you’re too divided… too angry at each other… too unwilling to compromise… and have shown very poor judgment in whom you elect as President. I’m not talking about Biden, he’s done a good job. But I couldn’t believe your country elected Donald Trump, then failed to impeach him, then let him incite an assault on Capitol Hill, and may reelect him again… or let Republicans win both houses in the midterms.
Something is deeply wrong with your country, and I don’t think you can fix it in time to stop our rise to world dominance. Now is our turn. Your time is past.

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin Meet. Spring 2021

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They greet outside a heavily guarded country home in an undisclosed location, each man flanked by his trusted interpreter. 

The two men shake hands amicably. Clearly, they have been at the same site before.

Xi – Good to see you.

Putin – Have been looking forward to this, as always.

They turn and step into a short hallway at which end a large double door opens to reveal an ample room with padded chairs facing each other and smaller seats adjacent for the interpreters. 

The men stride in and take their seats.

Two attendants are standing by an elegantly draped table covered with delicacies and an assortment of drinks.

Xi and Putin nod at the table attendants and that is their cue to exit the room, so no one else except the interpreters remains with them.

Putin – How is the family?

Xi – Very well, and yours?

Putin – Very well also. Thank you.

Xi – They send greetings.

Putin – And so does my family.

Xi – Thank you.

Putin – Congratulations on landing the rover in Mars.

Xi – Thank you. We are very proud of that accomplishment. It took a lot of planning and commitment.

Putin – The world got to see that nothing will stop you.

Xi – Exactly. And we are just getting started.

Putin – How is the Belt and Road initiative coming along?

Xi – Fabulously. We’re very pleased. 

Putin – What does the Belt stand for?

Xi – What we’re putting around their necks to tighten if we have to.

Putin laughs.

Xi – We are generous, but we need to get something back for our investment.

Putin – Of course. 

Xi – How was your meeting with Biden?

Putin – Productive. He listens. I think I can work with him.

Xi – I liked the way you spoke at the press conference following the meeting… denied any Russian involvement in cyberattacks on America, blaming them instead for attacking the rest of us. 

Putin – Keeping it simple. I like the way you’re managing the Uyghur problem.

Xi – Eventually, everyone will realize we won’t change our minds. If the world wants cheap cotton and tomatoes and polysilicon for solar panels, Uyghur labor will help provide it. 

Putin – Are you really trying to make them more Chinese… the Uyghurs?

Xi – Of course. But they’re hard headed. So we teach them the right way.

Putin – I’m impressed by how the rest of China doesn’t seem to mind.

Xi – There’s not much they can do about it, and it’s all about helping China get stronger. Chinese people get that.

Putin – Trump didn’t seem to mind. He wasn’t critical of the way you’ve handled the matter.

Xi – He understands. Have you heard from him?

Putin – Have not. He’s probably a little depressed… not having all that attention he so enjoyed.

Xi – Reminds me of what life would be like if I ever agreed to step down. I can better understand why Mao wanted to stay on until the end. 

Putin – I feel the same way.

Xi – And so we will govern until our last breath.

Putin – Yes.

Xi – Tell me about Alexei Navalny. I heard Biden wanted you to ensure his safety.

Putin – Yes. I went and visited him in prison, even before my meeting with Biden. I had never met Navalny. 

Xi – What was that like?

Putin – He has these romantic ideas about what Russians want. How Russians are desperate for freedom of expression. Makes you wonder if they ever talk to other Russians and not just to themselves. 

Xi – Will he survive prison? Biden seemed worried about that.

Putin – I will do everything possible.

Xi – Of course. You think they’ll award him the Nobel Prize for peace, Navalny?

Putin – It’s a political move, but prize or no prize, he’ll stay right there in prison.

Xi – Does it worry you that he’s started something that could, possibly, force you out?

Putin – I’ve been in power since 1999 and Russians have come to appreciate the peace at home and the respect we now have from the rest of the world. They know it’s happened because of me.

Xi – I came to power in 2013 and I can also say that my people feel great pride in being respected all over the world. That had never happened before. The one thing that many keep criticizing us about is the lack of freedom. But it’s a misconception. A thinking error. We cannot have freedom without discipline. Discipline to make sure everyone is making their contribution to the great plan for the nation. 

Putin – I agree. Americans keep talking about it as if you could have it without restrictions. We have freedom in Russia. You can start a business. You can go to university. You can travel. You can even organize politically but within certain limits. 

Xi – The limits being that you remain in power.

They both laugh.

Xi – Same in China. Americans talk a lot about freedom but nowhere in the world do people shoot each other like they do. I find it incredible that people in Texas worship having the right to carry a gun, as if that were real freedom. If there were real freedom in that land, people wouldn’t be so paranoid. 

Putin – Too much inequality breeds paranoia. 

Xi – Their real freedom is their right to vote and elect who you want.

Xi has surprised himself with the last statement.

Xi – (an embarrassed look at Putin) I did say that, didn’t I?

Putin – (smiles) Yes, you did.

Xi – Well… eventually the Chinese will get to vote in free elections. But that is not the phase of development we’re in. It will take years… 30-40 years perhaps. For now we have to instill discipline in the people. And it takes time. How do you see America’s situation now?

Putin – They are in a period of confusion. The assault on the Capitol is a sign of it. There are deep fractures in the political matrix of the country that suggest opportunities that we could take advantage of… if we work together.

Xi – Interesting. Go on. 

Putin – There are parts of the population in America that would prefer a system like ours. The other day, one of their generals, retired now, a Trump supporter, was quoted as saying ‘Why couldn’t we have a coup in America, like there was in Myanmar?’ 

Xi – Unheard of before Trump.

Putin – I’m sure the general wasn’t talking of a coup to empower proletarians… 

Xi – Of course not.

Putin – … but to further empower plutocrats, the super wealthy… the ones who run the big businesses and get away with paying no taxes.

Xi – I won’t let that happen in China. 

Putin – I liked the way you set limits on Jack Ma.

Xi – Right. No matter how much money you have, no matter how big your company is, you do not criticize the governing party. But you can do it in America. But please do continue giving me your opinion of America.

Putin – Biden wants to unite the country… but he can’t do it on his own. I don’t think so. He needs allies in the Republican party. The problem is that no one is stepping forward. Most of them are still thinking Trump is their best choice.

Xi – You don’t think so?

Putin – Trump is not centered enough as a person. He had his moment. But there are Republicans who could step forward and say, ‘We have to work with Biden, the country needs it.’ Until that happens, America will drift, working at cross purposes, wasting time and energy… and… giving us the opportunity to take advantage of their confusion.

Xi – What were you thinking of?

Putin – I have seen how effective you have been in suppressing the dissent in Hong Kong. I am confident you could do the same in Taiwan.

Putin and Xi look at each other as they pause.

Xi – I have thought about it. Americans are very vulnerable in the semiconductor industry, now so concentrated in Taiwan.  

Putin – And it will take them years to catch up. So… it may be a great opportunity to act.

Xi – We have discussed it… the pros and cons.

Putin – I could help.

Xi – How so?

Putin – America will not go to war with me if I choose to invade and annex the Ukraine. What do they care?

Xi – Hmm… but such an action would distract them enough for us to… at the same time… invade and annex Taiwan. 

Putin – Exactly… and by controlling the semiconductor market, you’ll have the world on its knees.

Xi – Indeed. Hmm. We have discussed it, the pros and cons.

Putin – My bet is… that America will not go to war with you over Taiwan, either. They’ll swallow their pride and kick themselves for not thinking ahead when they had time to do it.

Xi – Good point. America will feel demoralized, weakened. 

Putin – And it will give me an opportunity to extend my influence over Eastern Europe. 

Xi -What were you thinking of?

Putin – Poland, Hungary… Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia… maybe Finland. The European Union is weak, more so now since Brexit. And there’s no hiding that some prefer autocracies. 

Xi – I see. We have discussed it, the pros and cons. We will be moving into Afghanistan, of course, once the Taliban take over after the Americans leave.

Putin – Good luck with that. We didn’t do well there.

Xi – Ah, but you didn’t have the Belt and Road initiative like we do.

Putin – (laughs) Tighten that belt around their necks if they don’t cooperate.

Xi – Exactly. 

Putin – However… there’s always the risk… that Americans will pull together and decide to fight.

Xi – You think Biden will rally them for a fight?

Putin – There is that possibility… 

Xi – If so… Americans may end up more united than ever.

Putin – They are creative… and can be very determined…

Xi – When they have a bold leader. You think Biden is that man?

Putin – Good question… I wonder… but he could be… he just could be.

Xi – We would be risking a lot if we chose to act as we have spoken…

Putin – True.

Xi – … and the rest of the world may not be forgiving.

Putin – But it is very tempting, isn’t it… since America is so divided.

Xi – Yes. But we cannot forget that our economy keeps growing… no one is growing like we are… we keep reaching more and more markets… and we may discover, as I suspect, that we can outcompete America… and not have to fire a single shot… and maybe that’s the real war we’re now fighting. 

Putin – Very good point. 

Xi –We Chinese are very disciplined. That’s our advantage. 

Putin – (looking a bit worried) It’s a different challenge… I get that. 

Xi – Do you think Russians can outcompete Americans?

Putin – Good question. 

The two men pause for a moment.

Xi – What would you have to do?

Putin – I am not sure. But I worry that I will have to grant more freedom to increase competitiveness. 

Xi – Which would threaten your position.

Putin – Yes.

Xi – You’re not alone… I worry about it, also.

Xi clasps his hands as he pauses for a moment.

Sometimes… I think it is inevitable.

Putin – What?

Xi – That sooner or later, Chinese will want more freedom… even demand it. 

Putin – Repression works up to a point… but we can make it last.

Xi – Taking the long view… I do think that you and I… are only transitional leaders… leaders without the conviction that men are at their best when they can govern themselves.

Putin smiles to himself, pensively. And he thinks of Alexei Navalny.

Xi – Shall we eat something?

Putin – Yes.

The two men rise and walk to the table filled with delicacies.

To be continued

Oscar Valdes.