When it begins to restrict the freedom of its citizens.
By that measure, China has already begun its slow decline.
Sure, the country remains a strong manufacturer of goods and they have made much progress in the production of electric vehicles, communication technology, artificial intelligence, renewable energy and space exploration.
But the suppression of the freedom of its citizens and the pervasive surveillance of their activities have started to slowly erode the minds of the Chinese. Slowly erode their spirit.
And the reduction in their ability to innovate will soon become clear.
Lying by the government is now the norm. That does something to the human spirit.
The large scale oppression of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang province is well documented but the Chinese government boldly denies the evidence.
If it is true that they are not guilty as charged, all it would take would be to allow a group of representatives from the rest of the world to visit the area, interview the people and see for themselves. But they won’t do it.
They won’t because their lies would be discovered.
A China that was truly confident would not object to such inspection.
If they had an open society then the matter would be aired.
If the intent in their treatment of Uyghurs was to reeducate them so they would become better Chinese, as they claim, there are certainly other ways to do that instead of secretly, which lead to practices that are coercive and inhumane.
That China can’t be honest with the world is a sign of the corruption at the top.
The corruption of a leadership for whom the preservation of power at all costs is the main objective. Never mind the full development of the Chinese citizen – an achievement only possible when freedom of expression is preserved while respecting the rights of others to do the same.
Xi Jinping has changed the laws so he can remain in power as long as he wants.
He gets to have freedom of expression. Not his people.
And so the entire Chinese leadership has reminded us how much they have in common with despots everywhere, whether in Syria, Russia, Egypt, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Belarus, Turkey, Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela.
Bullying behavior comes right along with massive lying.
In the South China Sea, the Chinese have made incursions into areas officially belonging to the Philippines while Duterte, their president, apparently intimidated by them, has chosen to look the other way.
When people in power are not confronted, their perverse instincts become more pronounced.
That is evident in China’s obsession to repossess Taiwan. The island went through many years of growing pains but blossomed into a democracy and now China wants it. China wants it, mind you, not to enhance it, but to diminish it, to strip it of the freedoms that have made it an economic powerhouse.
China wants to do with Taiwan what it is now doing with Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, businesses from everywhere in the world still race to have a presence in China because of the size of their markets and the profits that come with it.
And so that influx of foreign innovation helps China thrive. For now. But it will not last.
Take Russia for comparison. The enormous creative potential of that country has not been realized because of their system of governance. But in their case, there are now signs of change.
The tenacity and commitment of Alexei Navalny has been spreading through Russia and reminding them of how much they are giving up by consenting to live under the controlling influence of Vladimir Putin. And although Navalny is now in prison, the world increasingly recognizes him as the true bearer of the hopes of that nation.
There is no similar figure in China because the oppression has been so complete.
But soon enough one such figure will rise.
People who dare to take on the difficult challenges make a difference.
In Europe, Angela Merkel has been the person who came to symbolize the European Union’s possibilities. As she gets ready to step down as prime minister of the German nation, Emmanuel Macron in France will likely assume that role.
Meanwhile, from America, Joe Biden has risen to carry the vision and commitment to unite the Free World.
There is no question that China is a repressive dictatorship. Like there is no question of its ambitions to extend their influence far beyond its borders.
That China is helping other economies with their exports and imports, should not hide the fact that as a system, it is toxic to the human spirit.
China may be helping western companies get rich as their own companies do, but those riches are coming at a price.
And the price is the gradual undermining of the importance of freedom of expression.
The challenge of China to the free world is for us to address our inequalities.
They are saying to us, ‘so long as we make you rich through our markets, you will slowly value money more so than freedom, and you will become more like us.’
In answering the challenge, we must create better and fairer societies, and remind China of what is truly essential.
Our freedoms are fundamental to the preservation and enhancement of what it is to be human.
China is trampling on those.
Soon enough, it is our hope, a person or movement symbolizing resistance to their system of governance will emerge and begin the renewal the Chinese citizen deserves, so that talented nation can fully contribute to solving the problems of the world.
We will be wise to be able to recognize and support such person or movement.
Oscar Valdes. Oscarvaldes.net