Over the last quarter century, China's economy grew at a phenomenal rate, its diplomatic influence now reaches every corner of the world and its military might is rapidly approaching the level of American military power. Nevertheless, in one area, China remains extremely vulnerable: its human rights practices.
The case of the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers, who all turned up in China, has rocked Hong Kong society to its core, shaking confidence in the mainland's promises of "one country, two systems." At the same time, it has placed China under a microscope with governments around the world accusing Beijing of rampant violation of human rights and international norms by abducting individuals and taking them to the mainland.
The visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to the United States illustrates the seemingly schizophrenic relationship between the two countries that makes the word frenemies seem so appropriate.
China has reacted mildly -- to some extent even positively -- to the special U.S.-ASEAN summit meeting hosted last week by Barack Obama at the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage in California, the first such meeting to be held in the United States.
North Korea's provocative launch of a rocket on Sunday, triggering off another emergency session of the United Nations Security Council, came barely a month after Pyongyang conducted its fourth nuclear test. The rocket launch added urgency to the Security Council's latest efforts to put in place additional economic sanctions after the January nuclear test.
China, long accused by the United States of being a free rider by not contributing to the resolution of global issues, has taken a big step into the Middle East, with mainland Chinese leader Xi Jinping visiting Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran, strengthening the country's relations with the crisis-stricken region, but at the same time making it clear that it has its own strategic priorities.
During the campaign leading up to the Jan. 16 elections, Tsai Ing-wen, leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), took part in singing the national anthem at public events, but her lips visibly stopped moving when it came to the words "our party," since they referred to the Kuomintang (KMT), which had been in power in Taiwan since the 1940s, save for eight years.
The consternation in Hong Kong over the case of five missing booksellers -- especially the most recent case of the apparent disappearance of Lee Bo, feared to have been kidnapped and smuggled into the Chinese mainland -- shows that the chief concern of the local population has not changed since before the handover in 1997: It is to ensure that their personal security, guaranteed under British colonial rule, will continue after China resumed sovereignty.
The year-end agreement between Japan and South Korea to resolve the issue of wartime "comfort women," which has been poisoning the relationship between the two countries, has been widely welcomed internationally, but not by China.
As a new year begins, China has released plans for its military development, including a second aircraft carrier. At the same time, a military overhaul of its land forces has led to the creation of a General Command of the Army, a Rocket Force and a Strategic Support Force.