China, for all its problems, seems set on an inexorable rise to superpower status to rival the US. On multiple benchmarks – economic, technological, military and diplomatic – Beijing is making rapid advances.
We are a long way, in other words, from peak China. But that begs another question which has been sweeping Beijing over the northern summer – whether we are now witnessing peak Xi Jinping.
In recent weeks, the signs of a nascent pushback against Xi's absolute power have started to emerge. Some are cryptic, given the nature of Chinese politics, contained in coyly worded postings on social media. Some are the stuff of rumour, or back alley news, as the Chinese call such information, which flourishes in the absence of a free press.
The whisperings emanate from a variety of sources – retired leaders, rival factions within the CCP, the intelligentsia and the economic policy making apparatus. None presage Xi being toppled from power, nor are they an indicator of meaningful political reform of the single-party state. The ruling communist party, in whatever form, is here to stay.
But after nearly six years during which he has relentlessly accumulated power and sidelined rivals, either by ousting them from office or having them jailed for corruption, Xi's multitude of critics and enemies may be finding their voice.
Xi's scorched-earth approach to ruling China since 2012 allowed him to grab the reins of power rapidly, in a way that his predecessors, Jiang Zemin and particularly Hu Jintao never managed.
Bad old days
But he has acquired many enemies along the way in the country's traditional power centres, the military, retired leaders, the big party families and large swathes of the once-powerful state economy. China's new classes, the entrepreneurs and the emerging professions, also resent his roll-back of the political openings of previous decades.
Xi's ruthless wielding of the party' extra-judicial anti-corruption powers is legitimately aimed at fixing the corrosive culture of graft in officialdom. The anti-corruption campaign also has the effect of forcing localities to take greater notice of central government directives.
But the campaign's arbitrary nature naturally gives rise to suspicions the anti-corruption powers have been used to target Xi's enemies as much as anything else, on top of implanting fear in a recalcitrant bureaucracy.
It is little wonder, then, that Xi ended term limits for the country's presidency earlier this year. It is doubtful that Xi would have enjoyed a quiet retirement if he stepped down in 2022. Rather, he would have been exposed to detractors seeking revenge.
The most pervasive story doing the rounds in Beijing focuses on the complaints of party elders about the cult of personality being built around Xi. Because it is so redolent of the bad old days of Mao Zedong, it is an easy issue to complain about.
But anger about Xi goes well beyond that issue, to the way that he has systematically shut down the various pressure valves built into the system under his predecessors. Checks on the absolute power of the top leader, including term limits, have worked well for the ruling party, so the argument goes. Why jettison them?
And then, as always these days, in China as in America and anywhere else in the world, there is the Donald Trump factor.
Shift in economic axis
Trump's unpredictable tactics – striking a deal one day, only to throw it out the next while issuing a new set of demands – have thrown the Chinese leadership off-balance. At a time when the economy is slowing, China does not want a trade war with the US, even if it is convinced it could ultimately prevail.
Xi can scarcely be blamed for Trump. His rivals, nonetheless, have latched onto deteriorating relations as a stick to beat Xi over the head with. Trump often talks about his "good friend" Xi. But the US president is in fact behaving anything like a friend to his peer in Beijing.
It is true that China no longer relies on the US market as it once did. With the Belt and Road Initiative, China is aiming to diversify away from the Pacific, to go west, towards central Asia and Europe.
But the shift in Beijing's economic axis hardly abrogates the importance of America's enduring role in anchoring stability in China's environs. Xi may regret, in retrospect, pursuing such a forceful foreign policy, as it has allowed the China hawks to gain ascendancy in Washington.
America's foreign policy establishment generally has visceral disdain for Trump, but many make an exception in the case of China, where they are enjoying seeing their president put Xi on the back foot.
Xi plans to be in office for many years to come. To ensure he stays there, maybe he will have to share some power along the way.