China expert Tom Miller likes to use a thought experiment to explain what China is doing. Decades from now, once-mighty Europe is sinking into decrepitude. Tens of millions of Europeans have been killed in uprisings, wars and an occupation by former ally the United States. Europe has become a minor player on a hostile global stage. But the ruined empire vows to rebuild itself.
It may sound like a dystopian horror film, says Miller. But this is an approximation of the fall of China from ‘the world’s greatest power and its leading civilisation’ in 1800 (much as Britain saw its empire in 1900), a gradual process culminating in the Japanese invasion in 1931 and the Second World War which ‘brought China to its knees’.