The rise of China as America's chief rival on the international stage has long been a staple of our foreign policy pundits' alleged wisdom. The Chinese, simply by virtue of their enormous population, have been deemed the inheritors of the earth. China, we are told, has been in the process of overtaking us in terms of virtually every metric imaginable: demographic, economic, and, most important of all, military. There's just one problem with this Sinocentric view of the future: it's based on nonsensical assumptions. And the central wrongheaded assumption – that China is a stable unitary country and will always remain so – is being disproved (once again) by the events now unfolding in Hong Kong.
For most of its long history China has been divided into warring regions – or, in the modern era, disparate factions with antithetical interests – with a strong unitary state presiding over a relatively stable empire the exception rather than the rule. Its weakness and disunity made it easy prey for European colonialists, who tore off large pieces of Chinese real estate in the nineteenth century. Its status as the sick man of Eastasia persisted until the aftermath of World War II, when it fell under what appeared to be Russian domination and the "Peoples Republic of China" was established by the Communist Party of China (CCP).