At 70, China retains the capacity to surprise. When chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China seven decades ago, few could have entertained the possibility of the country looming large as one of the greatest economic success stories ever to be told, on track to eclipse the United States as the world's biggest economy in a matter of decades. Fewer still could have imagined it would emerge as the main challenger to US military might, or indeed that the ruling Chinese Communist Party would prove resilient. Yet China has grown from strength to strength. Its economy surged at an average rate of around 8 per cent a year to free over 800 million people trapped in poverty. Life expectancy more than doubled from 35 to 77. Ditching the early obsession for self-sufficiency to become the world's largest trading nation, it is now the No. 1 trading partner for all of South-east Asia's economies.
Not only did China change - that is clear - but it also changed the world. And despite concerns over its opaque political system and geopolitical ambitions, it remains the favourite of foreign investors, second only to the US in drawing inward investment. The China transformation story is, however, fraying at the edges as it encounters both the limits of its resource-intensive economic growth model and the constraints of its tightly held political model. On its 70th anniversary, the visuals were stark. Crowds at its biggest military parade applauded as troops precision marched alongside a nuclear missile capable of reaching the US in 30 minutes. In Hong Kong, however, live shots were fired in the four-month-old pro-democracy protests, injuring a demonstrator for the first time.