It's hard not to take an interest in China, which may already be the world's largest economy - quite a bit ahead of schedule, it seems. I am a sino-novice, but have had a very positive experience of Hong Kong, which is a start. Things like the Chinese reaction to MH 370 I find puzzling: and their foreign policy is clearly naive in many respects, endlessly tripping up over things it should take in its stride. But they'll get smarter.
In the meantime ... while I was in HK earlier in the year there was a big anniversary demo, but the recent protests hadn't started. Although these seem to have peaked, there are still daily events in the series, faithfully chronicled by Wiki - at least for western audiences - so the embers are still glowing. Where does all that lead ?
On the one hand, it seems China is steadily and unsurprisingly trying to nibble at the quite tangible freedoms granted to HK and Macau for 50 years under the 'one nation, two systems' set-up. They are up against a young, dynamic, well-educated, quite stroppy population that enjoys those freedoms very much. Can anyone imagine them signing up for old-style communist clap-trap ? (For a glimpse of what old-school 'monolithic ideology' is all about, it's worth reading the 'Ten Principles' of China's old buddy, North Korea. Who'd buy that without a gun in his temple?)
Strategically, I strongly incline to the idea that China - surely the country with the longest and most patient historical viewpoint - must have as one of its highest considerations the desire to re-integrate Taiwan, just as the old West Germany was fixated on reunification. The odds of this must be many times better with a happy HK in the fold. Another source of optimism must be that there are still some 33 years to run under the 50-year dispensation: surely over such a long period there is likely to be still further liberalisation in China, and softening of 'communist' doctrine. The very existence of a state of affairs in HK that is broadly satisfactory to China might even act to deflect the compass systematically in that direction.
On the other hand, there is the observation that the 2008 Olympics didn't have the fundamental effect on China that many (including me) thought would happen. And then there's the famous story about the Emperor's concubines. One day, the Emperor decided his giggling concubines should be made to parade and march in orderly ranks, but early attempts to achieve this were like trying to herd cats, and greeted with gales of laughter.
The Emperor called in one of his generals. He, too, found chaos when he barked his orders to the assembled harem on the parade square. So he had two of them beheaded on the spot. And the rest all immediately fell in line.
I have a feeling this story gets told around the CPC Politburo table from time to time. Let's hope the 'Taiwan Strategy' faction predominates, and is not just a fiction of my optimistic imagination.