from The New Statesman
In the summer of 2021 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is marking its centenary. It has much to celebrate. The most powerful communist party and by far the most powerful political organisation in the world, it has presided over the largest surge of economic growth ever witnessed. For both the West and China’s immediate neighbours, this unsettling and unexpected fact defines the early 21st century.
China’s rise has undone any assumption that social and economic progress naturally leads to liberalism. Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty in 40 years by an authoritarian one-party regime, dedicated to what it calls “Marxism for the 21st century”.
Against the backdrop of this triumph, the CCP is planning its second century. In Europe, the US and Asia, the political classes are scrambling to keep up. American strategists have designated a newly minted world region, the Indo-Pacific, as the arena for a battle royal between democracy and authoritarianism.
Some influential voices on both sides of the Atlantic relish this confrontation. Others are suffering from a sense of shock. They hanker after the 1990s or early 2000s, when coexistence seemed assured – an era that contemporary hawks dismiss as a period of naivety when the China challenge was underestimated.
Historical perspective does suggest that the era of calm was the exception. After all, the West’s sense of historic pre-eminence rests on what in China is known as a century of humiliation. Reversing China’s decline has been an ongoing struggle for more than a hundred years, a struggle that has involved commerce, communication, creativity and exchange. It has also involved violence, sometimes on an epic scale, both within China and in battles with foreign powers.