What Is Xi Worried About on Communist China's 70th Birthday?

"We have stood up!" were communist leader Mao Zedong's words just days before he proclaimed the foundation of the People's Republic of China (PRC) 70 years ago this morning. Having won an unlikely victory over Western-backed nationalists in a brutal civil war, Mao's message was one of defiance, solidarity, and continued struggle.


Today Chinese president Xi Jinping will oversee a massive celebration of that moment, featuring tens of thousands of performers and troops, hundreds of tanks, planes and other military vehicles and even, it seems, a new nuclear weapon that can reach the US. The PRC's 70th is so politically sensitive that the authorities have choked off the internet in Beijing, ordered homing pigeons to stay in their coops, and replaced the usual TV soap operas with nationalistic historical dramas.

For Xi, it's an occasion to showcase China's tremendous achievement: this is a country that rose from poverty, war, and external subjugation to become the world's second largest economy, a leading force in science and technology, and a strong contender for 21st century superpower status. (He will, of course, omit the hideous suffering inflicted by Mao's Great Leap Forward and the social and political damage inflicted by the Cultural Revolution.)

But Xi, who has amassed more power than any leader since the "Great Helmsman" himself while bolstering the communist party's power over all aspects of life in China, is also keen to echo Mao's 1949 calls for unity and resilience as he braces the nation for potentially turbulent times ahead.

What's he up against?

The economy is sputtering. After bringing close to a billion people out of poverty since 1979, an economy that became the 20th century's "workshop to the world" is now expanding at its slowest pace in thirty years. That's not quite as bad as it sounds –but it's a looming challenge for a system where part of the deal with the population is: little political freedom, lots of growth.

Hong Kong and Taiwan aren't playing ball. The Hong Kong protests, now in their 15th week, are an explicit challenge to Beijing's authority over the territory. And the self-governing island of Taiwan, where pro-independence president Tsai-ing Wen is likely to win another term in January, isn't interested in being "reincorporated" into China, as Xi would like. That jars with Xi's vision of a unified China under firm control of the Communist Party.

A bigger global struggle awaits. The US-China trade war that's been capturing headlines since last year is only the opening salvo in what will be a broader global competition between Beijing and Washington for economic, technological and potentially even military supremacy. That is a struggle that will outlast both US President Donald Trump and Xi, and will help shape the next 70 years of the People's Republic.

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William Hague: What is my prediction for the election?

Well, I think that conservatives will definitely have a bigger lead in votes over the Labour Party than at the last election, two years ago. Now that should give them a majority in the House of Commons. But then there will be tactical voting between Labour and Liberal voters against the Conservatives. And there are many undecided people at the last minute. So, I would go for a small conservative majority, maybe around 20 seats, which is also what some of the most sophisticated pollsters have said.

David Miliband: Who do you predict will win the UK elections?

I'm very careful about predictions, especially about the future, as someone famously said. The polls are pretty clear that this has been a dismal campaign, an unpopularity contest in all sorts of ways in which the lesser of two evils is perceived by the voters to be a conservative vote. So, the polls are giving a range of possibilities from a hung parliament right through to a large conservative majority. Obviously, I don't know who's going to win. My tour around the country last week gave me a real sense, a yearning really, for a better choice, for better choices, for more fronting up by the parties, because both parties have done a job of avoiding some of the hardest choices. And so, I predict that whoever wins, there are some very difficult choices ahead. And the sooner that politics is about what you're asking for as well as what you're offering. As Tawney said, after Labour lost the 1931 election, "we offered too much and asked too little." The sooner politics is about shared endeavor, the better for the country.

After a months-long investigation into whether President Donald Trump pressured Ukraine's president into investigating his political rivals in order to boost his reelection prospects in 2020, House Democrats brought two articles of impeachment against him, charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Click here for our GZERO guide to what comes next.

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