Many Americans, myself included, hoped that the PRC’s immersion in the international economic system would encourage further expansion of the freedom of Chinese to debate ideas and ultimately control their political future. Although the CCP showed no willingness to relax its control, intellectual space appeared to grow a bit and liberty expanded in some important areas, such as religion. Even if progress was slow, measured against the Maoist era China had liberalized significantly.
Then President Xi Jinping took over in March 2013. His overriding objectives have been to assert China’s power internationally and the CCP’s authority internally. As such, he challenged the West and liberal ideas.
To many American policymakers, the PRC’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy poses the greatest threat. China’s neighbors and even more distant countries around the world, including in Europe, also are nervous about Beijing’s intentions. However, the PRC threatens not fundamental American security, but long-standing influence in East Asia, a very different issue. Moreover, far from being a grandmaster of geopolitics, Xi blundered badly: China’s aggressive overreach and malign meddling encouraged its neighbors and others to cooperate against it. They should bear the greatest responsibility in constraining its behavior.
Of anyone in history, Xi reminds me most of Kaiser Wilhelm II: Aggressive, not as sharp as he thinks he is, and surrounded by too many Yes Men.