At the time, China’s leader, Deng Xiaoping, was credited with overseeing a “second revolution” and introducing “sweeping economic reforms that have challenged Marxist orthodoxies” – as Time put it when naming him person of the year in 1985. If Deng’s reforms work, the magazine predicted, “the world will not be the same”. In Venice, Reagan told his fellow democratic leaders that Deng’s reforms marked “the first taste of freedom for over 1 billion people”. Citing the spread of economic and political liberalisation across Asia, Africa, and Central and South America, Reagan declared: “We look around the world and we see freedom is rising.”
But that tide has turned. Today, autocracy, not democracy, is rising, and the new US president describes his Chinese counterpart as a “thug”.