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A year ago, while many countries were still reeling from COVID-19, China seemed to be one of few places prospering through the pandemic. It was also the only major economy that reported growth in 2020. Global investors were bullish on Chinese stocks even as Beijing’s regulatory crackdown on its private sector became more like a political campaign.

That led some people in China to argue that its one-party authoritarian rule offered a compelling alternative to traditional liberal democracy. The United States was declining politically and economically, they said, and the world was “gravitating toward China.” Many Chinese cheered the narrative online.

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