George W. Bush's meeting last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his forthcoming meeting with Chinese leader Hu Jin Tao are a reminder that Bush and his successors will continue to face the challenge of dealing with these two unfriendly and potentially dangerous powers. Much of the world has moved toward democracy and freedom, but China hasn't much and Russia seems headed in the opposite direction.
Of the two, China is probably easier to deal with. It appears to have a collective leadership, which gives a certain continuity to its policy.
The bad news is that the regime continues to suppress freedoms of speech and religion. Those within it who dissent seem to be jettisoned, as Zhou Ziyang was when he argued against the violent suppression of the Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989.
The good news is that the collective leadership seems to be producing rational decisions responsive to events. The Chinese leaders have evidently moved the rogue North Korean regime in the direction of curbing its nuclear weapons programs. Apparently, they recognize that Kim Jong Il is a danger to China as well as to us.
Russia is different. Putin seems to be persisting in his irrational opposition to our decision to put missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. As Bush has pointed out, it's obvious that these are no threat to Russia -- they're clearly designed to protect Europe against an Iranian missile attack. Putin's apparent desire to assert some kind of hegemony over what were once the Soviet Union's Eastern European satellites seems delusional.
But one man's delusions can move national policy in a country where the former KGB officer seems to have consolidated power in his own person. He appears in complete control of the government, which in turn controls the oil industry and the news media. And while he has reiterated that he will respect the law, which prevents him from running for re-election in 2008, he seems to be single-handedly picking his successor.