There is one generally accepted view of China: it’s the rising superpower that’s building its third aircraft carrier and has set a timeframe by when it will be the US’ equal. But was that the image displayed at the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China?

Clad in a Mao suit, Chinese President Xi Jinping stood out among the other leaders in Western garb. His words rang alarm bells globally. China’s just grabbed full control of Hong Kong and it’s known Taiwan’s now the next big agenda item. Xi insisted China’s commitment to unify with Taiwan was “unshakeable”. That vow was followed by a threat full of amazingly mixed metaphors that anyone who tried to bully China “will surely break their heads on the steel Great Wall built with the blood and flesh of the 1.4-billion Chinese.”

But were these the words of a confident superpower? Or were they the words of an insecure superpower seeing threats in all directions? China has 14 land-based neighbours, including three with strong armies: India, Russia and Vietnam. Of course, in recent years, China’s drawn closer to Russia. But old territorial rows can easily be resurrected. Then, there are disputes galore in the South China Sea with countries like Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia. How does China ensure its neighbours won’t challenge it? To keep challengers at bay, it constantly makes bellicose noises and engages in its “Wolf-Warrior” diplomacy. Consequently, it’ll always be an uncomfortable neighbour to have as we know from Ladakh. But beyond that, China’s leaders fear the people. In a democracy, leaders know they can be turfed out in elections. But China has no such safety valves. Its leaders are on a treadmill and must constantly conjure up economic and political progress. The Chinese proclaim the superiority of their system of one-party rule but a single misstep could show them why democracy, even though messy, is a superior form of government.