The challenges China faces 100 years on from the founding of the Chinese Communist Party

For decades the presumption in the West has been that as China grew, it would open up not just economically but politically.

Market reforms would come hand in hand with political reforms and that would lead to the democratisation of the nation. By 2021 it would possibly have the largest voting population on the planet.

Not so.

This month as the world has watched the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) celebrate its 100th Anniversary, it appears China is as determined to remain under authoritarian rule as appears destined to challenge global order.

Another assumption is that to live without the freedom to vote and, depending on the subject, freedom of speech, Chinese people must all be robots, brainwashed and living under duress. But that is not the case.

It is true to say there are thousands, likely millions of families, who have been subjected to intimidation for speaking against the government, whose relatives have disappeared, been falsely imprisoned or people like the mothers of the Tiananmen Square victims, who live under constant surveillance, with their passports confiscated.

In the last year the pandemic appears to have intensified a crackdown on critics and many of those who dared to question the government’s response to the crisis in Wuhan have still not been seen or heard of.

And it is also fair to say President Xi has implemented a stricter than ever ideological agenda, with communist thought permeating through every tier of education, workplaces and in to almost every walk of life.

But it is also the case that a majority of Chinese citizens are not unhappy or silently harbouring discontent at the way they are governed.

Most people just want a healthy life and to have enough money to put food on the table, the Communist Party has helped give them that. It is estimated a rising standard of living can quell 80% of political discontent.

China blamed the US for what it called a ‘stalemate’ in bilateral relations Credit: CCTV/AP

To some extent you need look no further than that for an explanation as to why one party maintains an iron-grip on the most populated country in the world. The CCP is celebrating the centenary of its founding, but the party has been in power since 1949.

In those 70 years homes have been electrified, life expectancy has increased, education and healthcare have improved, Chinese people have begun to travel the globe and at the start of this year the President declared extreme poverty had been eradicated.

The Party takes credit for all of those advancements, deftly airbrushing out the negatives along the way.

Debi Edward watched President Xi's speech in Tiananmen square in China. Credit: ITV On Assignment

So despite the crackdowns, the censorships and a catalogue of oppressive campaigns Xi Jinping and the CCP remain highly popular. As of the party Anniversary on July 1, there were almost 100 million members.

I sat in Tiananmen square on that day to watch President Xi give a seminal speech.

Our biggest take away was a remarkably bombastic threat to "bust the heads" of any foreign aggressor and his statement of intent to reunify Taiwan.

As I listened to the President talk and looked at the tens of thousands of Party members around me hanging on every word, I thought of the massacre that had taken place in the square where we were gathered. Thousands of students and their dreams of democracy were killed in 1989, in a disaster which has been all but erased from the history books.

Crowds watched a gun salute and guard of honour

In his speech Xi Jinping said there was ample evidence that without the Communist Party of China, there would be no new China and no national rejuvenation. "The Party was chosen by history and the people," he said.

Next year the President will begin an unprecedented third term, having scrapped the constitutional limits on presidential terms to allow him to serve for life.

Accusations of genocide in Xinjiang are denied and labelled anti-China slander, "the lie of the century". International condemnation of a National Security Law in Hong Kong that has stifled free speech and caused thousands to flee the territory, is described as an interference in domestic affairs.

The country and its human rights record may be under the spotlight like never before but in the face of such scrutiny, not least surrounding the origins of Covid-19, China appears bolder and more bombastic in its pronouncements. The President is buoyed by the belief he has the nation on side.

Napoleon is quoted as saying Let China Sleep for when she wakes, she will shake the world.

Two centuries later the sleeping giant is awake, challenging global order and maintaining unrivalled domestic control.

Chinas Communist Party is celebrating being one hundred years young.

Watch Debi's full report from China on this month's edition of On Assignment, Tuesday 27 July at 10.45pm on ITV