Dictators do not cultivate friendship. Even with Putin and Xi, it is clear who is the cook and waiter here. While Russia and China serve each other’s commodities, the influence of their rulers in the world remains limited. And that’s good.

There was talk of “boundless friendship” between the two in February, a few weeks before Russia launched its war of aggression against Ukraine. The rulers Putin and Xi met in Beijing at the time on the occasion of the Winter Olympics. In their 100-page friendship note, they declared that they wanted to spearhead a new world order together – against the United States and its democratic allies. Six months later, the two are now sitting together in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

Nothing turned out the way the two dictators wished and that is, to use the well-known dictum, a good thing. In any case, it’s good news for the free world, which the two despisers of democracy, Putin and Xi, passionately wanted to oppose. The road to world domination is blocked for the time being.

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These are the reasons:

1. The myth of the autocrat has been destroyed. Both rulers withdrew in the wake of the corona pandemic and became radicalized in isolation. Xi and Putin both believe that some unspecified world or destiny power has called them to restore their countries to ancient imperial glory. This is nonsense.

Today’s world no longer functions like it did in the 19th century, when tsars and emperors moved borders at will, occupied and exploited countries. Advisors find it difficult to get hold of both rulers, it is reported that both do not accept any opinion alongside theirs and do not want to hear any advice. The result can be seen in Ukraine, the ruler Putin has taken a wrong step.

Something similar can be expected should Xi carry out his threat and attack democratic neighboring Taiwan. Xi’s “zero Covid” strategy, which the Chinese autocrat has enforced, is a non-starter. In doing so, he ruined the Chinese economy.

2. Zones of influence like those demanded by Putin for Russia and Xi for China no longer exist. This also becomes clear to the two when they meet the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Founded by the two countries in 2001, this organization aims to subdue the countries in the immediate vicinity of Russia and China to these major players. But there is also India, for example, a country with a population of billions and a partnership with the USA.

A country with its own interests, which has already led to border disputes and bloodshed on the border with the People’s Republic. The former Soviet republics, of which Uzbekistan is one, are shocked by the war of aggression against Ukraine and fear that they, too, could be occupied by Russia again. China’s and Russia’s aggressive expansionist intentions are unequivocally rejected by the world, free or unfree.

3. There is no partnership between dictators. Democratic countries operate on a legal basis and follow friendly principles. They also apply if a head of government is replaced by another after an election. Dictators only fight for themselves. The Kremlin and the Forbidden City therefore do not meet on an equal footing. China is taking record amounts of gas and oil from Russia, yes. But at a dump price.

China exports eagerly to Russia, but only to keep its own struggling economy reasonably afloat. In Samarkand it also becomes clear who is the cook and who is the waiter: Putin reacted to China’s “questions and concerns” about Russia’s failing war effort in Ukraine. If Putin loses the war, Xi will distance himself from him – as soon as possible. Alliance and partnership look different.

4. Beyond these internal impossibilities for the two dictators to gain world domination, there are also external factors that stand in the way, above all: The free world is united today like it hasn’t been for a long time. In the conflict with Putin and Xi, it became clear that “free world” does not mean “the West”. Taiwan is a thriving democracy in Asia. Japan and South Korea are also democracies, as are Mauritius and Uruguay. Democracy is not about points of the compass, but about freedom and human rights.

The certification by the United Nations, according to which Xi Jinping and his clique in Xinjiang and Putin’s marauding mercenaries in Ukraine are committing serious crimes against humanity, has once again made it clear and pointed out that the free, democratic world order does not match the omnipotence fantasies of oppression and disenfranchisement dictators is preferable in any case and without exception.

Alexander Görlach is Honorary Professor of Ethics at Leuphana University in Lüneburg and Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York. The PhD linguist and theologian is currently working on a project on “digital cosmopolitanism” at the Internet Institute of the University of Oxford and the Faculty of Philosophy at New York University.

Alexander Görlach was a Fellow and Visiting Scholar at Harvard University in the USA and Cambridge University in England. After stints in Taiwan and Hong Kong, he has focused on the rise of China and what it means for East Asian democracies in particular. He has recently published the following titles: “Red Alert: Why China’s Aggressive Foreign Policy in the Western Pacific Is Leading to a Global War” (Hoffmann

From 2009 to 2015, Alexander Görlach was also the publisher and editor-in-chief of the debate magazine The European, which he founded. Today he is a columnist and author for various media such as the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and the New York Times. He lives in New York and Berlin.