Paris, October 1, 2014 --The surprising strength of the "umbrella" protests now taking place in Hong Kong presents a crucial test for the ruling Communist Party. Its leadership professes confidence in the future but behind the scenes the country is approaching the brink of the unresolved crisis that threatens the nature of its political system.
The Chinese Communist government may be said to confront three current challenges. The first is easiest and comes from the island entities and states in southern Chinese waters who challenge China’s claim to complete sovereignty in the region, comparing its rivals there with the minor states and monarchies that in the past recognized the supremacy of the Middle Kingdom and paid tribute to it.
In the long term China’s leaders assume that such a relationship with its China Sea neighbors can eventually be restored, and this seems not unlikely. Vietnam, which seceded from China in the 10th century AD, would seem the most likely to maintain its independence.
The second threat is a great rival state of its own rank capable of challenging its government and imposing its own sovereignty or dynasty. I would think that China has only faced such a challenge from peoples on its periphery in a time of troubles, imposing themselves upon a dynastic rule no longer capable of defending itself, as from Manchuria or descending from Central Asia. The obvious recent case was that of the Manchus, who ruled from the 17th to 20th centuries.
Today such a “great rival state” is the United States, a threat because of its immense military and economic strength and its Pacific deployment by way of bases and major allies. But it is difficult to see any reason for a war of aggression. Even with success it is hard to see what advantage an aggressor would achieve -- only the burdens of a military occupation which inevitably would be limited in scope, if possibly lengthy. In the end it would undoubtedly fail because of what might be called the civilizational incompatibility between China and the United States. In the case of Japan this cultural incompatibility does not exist, but it seems improbable that Japan in the future — because of the differences in population and geographical size — would ever again enjoy the immense power advantage over China that it did in the 1930s and 1940s.