Modern China's Precarious Existential High-Wire Act
Authoritarian and totalitarian states in their prime always look so imposing, don't they? Think of Nazi Germany in the years before WWII. The National Socialists built up the country's infrastructure and its military, putting on a show (and it was mostly a show) of economic supremacy while much of the West languished in the Great Depression. Think of the Soviet Union in the three decades after WWII. The Red Army, fresh off winning the bloodiest campaign in history against the Nazis, loomed as a constant threat over the rest of Europe. The Soviets launched the first artificial satellite, put the first man into space, built a huge arsenal of nuclear-tipped ICBMs, began work on a blue water navy to threaten the West's trade lifelines, and became politically and militarily active from Europe, to Africa, to Southeast Asia, and even in the Americas. But even all that turned out to be just for show, as the USSR faded away with barely a whimper one December night almost 30 years ago.
Now think of China in the 40 years since Premier Deng Xiaoping loosened the reins on his country's economy, setting off an economic boom powerful enough to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty, faster than anything in history. In recent years, China has modernized its military, is building an air fleet of stealth jets, and recently commissioned its second aircraft carrier -- the first to be produced domestically. Beijing now uses its economic might to virtually colonize resource-rich central and southern Africa, and attempts to make dependencies out of a series of nations with a string of megaprojects along the "New Silk Road." Perhaps most ominously, China is back under something like one-man rule as President Xi Jinping has consolidated power like no leader since Mao.
But is it all just a show?