Two of the reasons empires, past or present, exercise power is to show the plausibility of their ambitions or to show they still have, in theory at least, power to exercise.
China’s relentless expansion shows the first; the Gordian knot of the Brexit tragedy hints at the second in a delusional, wistful way.
China’s uncompromising attitude to those it regards as opponents, especially internal opponents, shows a relentless autocracy happy to deny human rights we in the West imagine, in untested theory at least, inviolable.
UN and American officials have reported that a million Muslims are held in Chinese internment camps.
Former inmates have told of how they were forced to renounce Islam and recite Communist Party songs for hours each day.
There are reports of internees being forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, both forbidden by Islam.
There are reports of torture and death as well. Cultural change imposed by force.
Intolerance is on display in Hong Kong too. Three campaigners behind the 2014 pro-democracy “umbrella movement” have pleaded not guilty to public nuisance charges brought because they advocated advancing democracy.
The grip of Chinese president Xi Jinping — described by The Economist as the world’s most powerful man — can be seen in a poll asking people if they agreed with the direction taken by their government. In China, 92% supported his regime.
If absolute power corrupts, then we are forewarned.