BEIJING China's leaders will breath a sigh of relief as the Beijing Olympics close, turning their attention back on the economy, keen to prevent any slowdown and possible unrest.
Stability remains the watchword in the run-up to the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China next year. Bold political reforms that could spell the end of the Communist Party's monopoly on power are not on the cards.
"The Olympics demonstrated the success of the current system and the Communist Party's determination not to reform politically. There is no reason to change," said a Chinese political commentator who requested anonymity.
President Hu Jintao has pledged to sustain rapid growth as the global economy weakens and as China copes with a plethora of problems, including inflationary pressures, income inequality, corruption, power shortages and pollution.
Some critics have likened the Beijing Olympics to the 1936 Berlin Games, predicting the world's most populous nation would become a bigger threat than Nazi Germany. Optimists hope China will learn from South Korea, hosts of the 1988 Games, and democratize.
Neither scenario appears likely.
China has sought to assure the West that its rise will not be a global threat and that it will not seek regional hegemony. Detractors are unconvinced.
But Hu lacks the revolutionary credentials of Mao Zedong, founder of Communist China, and is no strongman.
"China does not have the power," Chinese political scientist Liu Junning said. "It still has many problems such as the possibility of an economic slowdown."
Hu has undone some of predecessor Jiang Zemin's hawkish policies, mending fences with Japan, which brutally occupied parts of China from 1931-45, and self-ruled Taiwan, which China has claimed as its own since their split in 1949 amid civil war.
After 30 years of liberalization, Chinese leaders have vowed to continue reforming the world's fourth biggest economy and opening up, albeit at a pace dictated by the Party.
For ordinary Chinese, personal freedoms ranging from what they eat and wear to where they live, travel, study and work to who they marry and when they give birth -- all of which were once dictated by the Party -- will further expand.
But the Party will brook no challenge to its rule. It will continue to tighten its grip in Tibet and restive Xinjiang as well as over lawyers, journalists and activists and the freewheeling Internet.
"The Olympics were a boon for their performance, but did nothing for their procedural legitimacy," Liu said, referring to the method by which China's leaders are chosen.
But no leader would take the political risk of flirting with Western-style democracy.
Mikhail Gorbachev may be a hero in the West, but he is derided by Chinese leaders for betraying communism and blamed for the break-up of the Soviet Union.
"No leader can afford to be seen as digging the Party's grave," said Kou Chien-wen, a Taipei-based China watcher.
(Editing by Nick Macfie)