Confronting security forces in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, June 2009 David Gray / Reuters
Xi Jinping is in a race against time. The glow of China’s early economic rebound and containment of COVID-19 is fading. The international media have moved on to celebrate vaccine efficacy and vaccination rates elsewhere, and other economies have started posting solid growth rates. Yet President Xi continues to advance a narrative of Chinese exceptionalism and superiority. “The East is rising and the West is declining,” he trumpeted in a speech last year. Senior Chinese officials and analysts have adopted and amplified Xi’s message, pointing out the relative decline in Europe’s and Japan’s shares of the global economy and stressing the United States’ racial and political polarization. Former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs He Yafei has asserted starkly that the United States will “find that its strength increasingly falls short of its ambitions, both domestically and internationally. . . . This is the grand trend of history. . . . The global balance of power and world order will continue to tilt in favor of China, and China’s development will become unstoppable.”
But behind such triumphalist rhetoric lurks an inconvenient truth: China’s own society is fracturing in complex and challenging ways. Discrimination based on gender and ethnicity is rampant, reinforced
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