On this side of the Pacific (the east side), January is the beginning of the new year; on its western shores, it is close to the end of the old one. This gives us the perfect opportunity to look back and look ahead at the same time.
From one perspective, the anti-Communist had a very bad 2009 (for those readers suffering from pun withdrawal, one could say democracy supporters were quite gored in the Year of the Ox). A new Democratic president - Barack Obama - turned his back on nearly everything his predecessor did, except for "engagement" with the Chinese Communist Party. Meanwhile, the potential for the new Republican opposition in America to rediscover its anti-Communist past disappeared when Obama appointed Utah Governor Mike Huntsman to the post of Ambassador to the CCP. For the rest of the year, the Communist regime was largely ignored in Washington - not necessarily a bad thing, but it could have been much better. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi particularly disappointed with her near silence on the issue when there was never a better time for her to influence the debate in the capital.
Moving past the politicians and into the punditry, things actually got worse. What began as a discussion about global warming devolved into leading columnists pining for tyranny. Tom Friedman gushed over the "reasonably enlightened" CCP in a piece that should have embarrassed him. Canadian writer Diane Francis did Friedman one better by actually endorsing a global version of the hideous "one child" policy that made Zhongnanhai infamous around the world.
As all of this was going on, the regime seemed on the march across the globe. Beijing alone had the thrill of publishing good economic statistics (whether they were actually true statistics is for another column). More leaders of the free world - including Canada - seemed willing to do its bidding. Its chief Middle Eastern ally (the Iranian mullahcracy) moved closer to becoming a nuclear power. Its one-time Taliban allies were turning the tide in Afghanistan.
All in all, it's been a very good year for the CCP - on the surface. Scratch said surface, however, and it's a very different story.
While the American elite fell all over itself in praise of the regime, the American people maintained, and even increased, their wariness of Zhongnanhai. By the end of the year, even some of the "chattering classes" began to realize that the CCP's "peaceful rise" was anything but.
Meanwhile, the motivation for Tehran's hellbent quest for "the bomb" suddenly became known to the world: the Iranian people. Their continued defiance of the mullahcracy inspired the world, but it also sent a powerful message on the limits of dictatorship. About a decade ago, (First) Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis reminded us that oppressed people do have the power to force their oppressors to spend financial and political capital keeping the regime in place - and Tehran had to spend massive amounts of it. We saw the effects in Lebanon, where the pro-democracy March 14 movement scored an upset victory in national elections, and to a lesser extent in Iraq, where previous Iranian meddling seemed to ebb as the regime was forced to turn inward.
Given that the CCP's anti-American objectives and policies have largely been outsourced to Tehran - in part because the mullahs are so willing to credit for them and get the CCP off the hook - weakness in Iran means weakness in Zhongnanhai. Moreover, the regime can't look at the convulsions in Iran without worrying about the Chinese people rising up to take their country back.
Finally, even in Taiwan, things went south for the regime. While the CCP-friendly Kuomintang governed without any threat for much of the year, the voters in the island democracy brought the anti-Communist Democratic Progressives back to life in local elections last month. This time last year, President Ma Ying-jeou was a popular leader of a people seemingly willing to reach out to the Communists over the future of the Republic of China. Today, Ma is the leader of the Republic of China; the rest no longer holds.
So what can we expect in 2010? It's hard to say, but I think we'll know where to look: Iran. The resistance of the Iranian people will continue to spook Beijing and Tehran, while forcing both to ignore opportunities elsewhere. Meanwhile, the mullahs quest for nuclear weapons (which in no small part is fueled by a need to have the free world knuckle under and accept their repression of their fellow Iranians) will lead to more problematic headlines for the CCP.
Of course, if the Iranian people succeed in ending the mullahcracy, that could send shockwaves through tyrannies around the world - especially the CCP.