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If all this seems like a lot of hard work for essentially vainglorious purposes and the party’s self-interest, you may be missing the point. Despite China’s evident success in improving its economic fortunes and global standing, Xi and his fellow party leaders are under no illusions about the challenges the country faces. They range from chronic debt on a scale that could easily overwhelm the financial system to environmental degradation of the kind that already causes almost daily protests and threatens irreparable damage to the fabric of material life. A rapidly ageing population is an acute problem in a country where an earlier abundance of Chinese of working age spurred the sensational increases in national output that are only now falling away. A property market sustained partly by speculation, lumbering state enterprises poorly positioned to prosper in a highly competitive global economy, and an educational system straining under the pressure of popular demand for personal advancement also figure high on Xi’s worry list. It is an alarmingly long list that includes management of China’s troubled frontier regions; stubborn adherence to traditional ethnic and religious identities in Tibet and Xinjiang; resistance to Beijing’s attempt to secure greater influence in Hong Kong; Taiwan’s commitment to quasi-independence; and regional opposition to acceptance of China’s maritime claims.

Indeed, confidence is probably in much shorter supply in the highest councils of the party than many observers, Chinese and foreign, imagine. That is why Xi and his allies spend so much time consolidating their own rule and that of the party. They are aware that China’s problems, or more accurately its catastrophes, have in the past stemmed largely from within the party itself. The Great Leap Forward of the late 1950s, which plunged the country into a famine that claimed some 30 million lives, the Cultural Revolution the following decade that decimated intellectual life and spawned a decade of nationwide turmoil, and the 1989 Tiananmen Square student-led protests in favour of democracy all had their origins, in part at least, in personal and ideological divisions at the very top of the party. Xi knows that China has quite enough on its plate. He can at least minimise one risk of disorder: that stemming from a divided party or one dangerously infected by “liberal” ideas that, in the Chinese context, he insists would spell national disaster.

China’s relations with the United States feature prominently on Xi’s and the party’s agenda. Some of the reasons for this may be less obvious than others. They are no less important for that. In this category is what we might call the backstory of the US attitude towards the Communist movement in China during the 1940s and 1950s, when it defeated Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government, took over the entire country and entered a pact with the Soviet Union. Towards the end of Chiang’s rule, Washington was a stern critic of what it regarded as his incompetence and resistance to reform. But it never managed to distance itself from his regime in ways that allowed it to live up to its claims to act as honest broker between the rivals for power in China. Not only did US mediation in the Chinese civil war fail but, scarcely three years later, US troops, under UN auspices, were locked in bloody combat with Chinese Communist “volunteers” in the Korean War. Moreover, they at first took quite a beating, despite their evident superiority in training and equipment.

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