Today’s Insights, analysis and must reads from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria and the Global Public Square team

Where 100 Years Have Taken the CCP

Marking the Chinese Communist Party’s 100th anniversary, President Xi Jinping issued a warning to foreign powers: China doesn’t bully other countries, and anyone who tries to bully China “will find their heads bashed bloody.”

Xi’s admonishment reflected the party’s confidence—some would say hubris—that many analysts have cited in the run-up to the centennial. At Nikkei Asia, Richard McGregor writes of China’s unparalleled economic growth that has been accompanied, in recent years under Xi, by a view of China’s governance system as a model for others.

That self-assurance is not unfounded. As the party has consolidated power over decades, it has defied expectations: “Many foreign observers thought the party would not be able to keep pace with the increasing complexity of Chinese society without undergoing fundamental changes itself,” McGregor writes. “Not only has the party proved them wrong, under Xi it has gone backward, to the type of strongman rule that even highly placed insiders in China thought was gone. On the anniversary of the party, there are no challengers on the horizon, not to Xi nor the system itself.” In a Financial Times essay, Sun Yu and Tom Mitchell similarly depict a party that views its moral and practical authority as absolute, hewing to the notion “that what is good for the party is good for China.”

Writing at CNN, historian Rana Mitter seeks to explain how the party evolved from a group of 13 dissatisfied young men into a political juggernaut that rules a quarter of humanity: by uniquely adapting Marxism to its own ends, vigilantly curating its official history, and suppressing dissent. There are signs that China’s economic surge could sputter, Mitter suggests, concluding that “[t]he next century will pose very different challenges” for China’s ruling order.

Opposite Predictions for Iran Under Raisi

The rise of conservative President-elect Ebrahim Raisi has mostly polarized views on whether Iran is likelier, or less likely, to seek nuclear rapprochement, Frida Ghitis wrote recently for the World Politics Review.

Some—including Vali Nasr in Foreign Policy and Ali Vaez and Dina Esfandiary in The New York Times—say a hardliner like Raisi will face less internal resistance to compromising with world powers. Making the opposing case in an essay for The Dispatch, Bradley Bowman and Behnam Ben Taleblu argue that ballistic missiles and regional proxies are core to the Iranian regime’s ambitions—and that the Biden administration is dreaming if it thinks Tehran will accede to any limitations that reach beyond the 2015 nuclear accord, as the US has said it wants to secure.

“If you doubt that argument,” they write, noting that Raisi has promised the 2015 deal is as far as Iran will go, “simply look at who the regime just picked as its president and what he said last week.”

The Lab Theory Is Worrisome, but the Context Is Worse

Whether or not Covid-19 spilled from a lab is, in many ways, less important than evidence that lab-research safety practices are disturbingly lax, Zeynep Tufekci writes for The New York Times.

Tufekci cites alarming signs that infectious samples sometimes leak—including, some experts have suggested, the H1N1 virus that caused a pandemic in 1977-78—and that field-collected samples have been handled without adequate protective gear. “Even if the coronavirus jumped from animal to human without the involvement of research activities, the groundwork for a potential disaster had been laid for years, and learning its lessons is essential to preventing others,” Tufekci writes.

An Underdog Fight for Gay Rights in Poland

“[H]uman rights watchdogs consistently rank Poland as being among the most homophobic countries in Europe,” filmmaker Agnieszka Holland and Nobel literary laureate Olga Tokarczuk write for The Guardian, noting a hostile stance toward LGBTQ rights by President Andrzej Duda and the ruling, right-wing Law and Justice Party.

“But this is not the complete picture,” they write. “There are glimmers of hope in our ultra-conservative dystopia. Take a stroll around Warsaw today and you will see thousands of windows wrapped in rainbow flags, symbolising equality and freedom. Even the capital’s main landmark, the Palace of Culture, a gargantuan Soviet eyesore, regularly lights up in rainbow colours—a reminder that Warsaw still has an independent-minded mayor.” The fight for equality may fly under the radar, they write, but it is being waged persistently, including by individuals arrested over pro-gay-rights protests.

This Is Your Brain on Terrorism

What makes a person join a terrorist movement? In a podcast hosted by the online science-and-culture magazine Undark, Scott Atran and Nafees Hamid (who has detailed some of his work for CNN) recount their research in European jihadist-recruiting hotbeds. Their inquiries have included clinical experiments and brain scans, which have indicated that social exclusion can be key to nudging marginalized individuals to embrace the “sacred values” of a terrorist group—and, potentially, the willingness to kill and die for those ideals.

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