Despite all of the recent anniversary pomp, the most revealing reflection of where China finds itself after seven decades under the Communist Party did not come from the tightly choreographed official celebrations or any associated events at all. Instead it came as if out of nowhere from the unscripted world of Twitter, which is banned in China precisely because it cannot be censored.
Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets basketball team, set off a fury when he saluted the Hong Kong demonstrators on his personal Twitter account. China immediately canceled lucrative commercial sponsorship arrangements with the team and suspended broadcasts in the country of the NBA’s preseason games.
This incident serves to illustrate that China’s problem is not only, as some distant observers have long imagined, that its stringent official intolerance only stunts its own people, which of course it does. As China grows richer and more powerful, it will increasingly seek to project its intolerance outward, making others bend before its censored political speech in an attempt to normalize it.
Imposing norms on others, of course, is routine business for great powers.
The United States has long employed official sanctions to punish other nations and enforce conformity, and China now is doing more and more of that itself.