Modern China is still young. So every decade since the founding of the People’s Republic of China is seen as a significant anniversary. The 70th, like the 40th recently of the implementation of economic reforms that shaped the PRC’s future after the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution, is a time for reflection on progress and on challenges that lie ahead. The latter are about more than safeguarding achievements, such as raising hundreds of millions from poverty within a generation. They are also about meeting growing expectations created by those achievements. The goal of meeting “people’s desire for a better life” has long since been about more than basic livelihood needs. There is a spiritual hunger among the new middle class for a higher level of fulfilment, such as improving the legal system to ensure fairness and transparency. Meeting those expectations is the key to confidence that will unlock middle-class spending power. This in turn will boost domestic consumption, to which Beijing looks for growth now that expansion driven by exports and investment is a thing of the past. Externally, China faces the challenges of a trade war with the United States , de facto leadership of multilateralism and an anti-government protest campaign in Hong Kong . The unrest has been marked by violent clashes that escalated during the weekend and raised trepidation over what today’s anniversary might bring to the city. With the 50-year guarantee of Hong Kong’s way of life now nearing the halfway mark, the protests complicate the question of the longer-term future of “one country, two systems”. Sensitivity to public opinion Today, in fact, is special because it marks much more than the 70th anniversary . The PRC is the first modern Chinese state that could focus on modernisation and nation-building without the interruption of foreign invasion and civil wars. Its history can be divided into three stages – the first from its foundation to 1975, with the focus on destroying an old system considered oppressive and backward. Sadly, the last decade of that period was marked by the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution, which prompted eventual transition to modernisation and development. The second is from 1975 to now, marked by economic reform and opening up. President Xi Jinping now wants to lead China onto the third stage, national rejuvenation, with the goal of returning it to the forefront of international powers. Peaceful reunification of all Chinese territories, including Taiwan, is critical and one country, two systems in this sense, is also key to it. Mass show of advanced military aircraft set for National Day parade For all that has been achieved, there are complaints about progress, including from many Chinese, not least on wealth gaps, uneven development and human rights. But the general trend is towards a better place, which is why they are by and large optimistic. In that respect China can argue it needs more time, and the world stands to gain by continuing to engage with it. After all, contrary to the China-threat theory, the country’s rise has been part of a relatively peaceful global environment. On the 60th anniversary of the founding of the PRC in 2009, this newspaper argued that arbitrary decision-making should be replaced by more transparent policymaking, that the rule of law should be better established, that Beijing must move forward with political reforms to make government more accountable and help stamp out corruption. Xi’s campaign against official corruption has gone some way to addressing the latter. We concluded that the next challenge was to achieve greater liberty and justice. We see no need to revise that now as it goes to the need for spiritual fulfilment that is the challenge ahead for the leadership. Sensitivity to public opinion and the aspirations and well-being of the people are now, more than ever, key to legitimacy and longevity of one-party rule. Time for serious reflection Less than a year ago, when China celebrated the 40th anniversary of the implementation of economic reforms, there was no hint of the violent division that was to engulf Hong Kong, triggered by the now-shelved extradition bill. For those four decades, Hong Kong played a pivotal role in China’s opening up as a bridge for investment and trade. It is something to be proud of. But this is no time to dwell in the past. Hong Kong’s role in the country’s overall opening up has changed significantly four decades later. China has moved on to the next phase of development. Hong Kong’s role is now to be found in participation in the “ Belt and Road Initiative ”, and in the Greater Bay Area technology and financial hub. However, the unprecedented anti-government protests have brought forward the time for serious reflection on both sides about how to take relations forward into the second half of the 50-year guarantee of our way of life. It could raise once again some of the sensitive and critical issues that had to be addressed ahead of the resumption of Chinese sovereignty. There are suggestions for Beijing to think about it sooner rather than later. For example, there are voices urging the extension of one country, two systems for another 25 years, but it remains to be seen whether it would be feasible and how it would be done. It depends on the course of cross-border relations and the fostering of mutual trust. Meanwhile, Hong Kong can secure its role in the next decade of China’s development, and lay the foundations of future relations, by adapting to domestically driven economic growth through science and technology and further integration.