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Large-scale changes sometimes happen imperceptibly. Just because we can't see or feel it doesn't mean continents aren't drifting.

So it is with the international order. China's global ascendancy is not a recent phenomenon, but the world has a new seismographic reading, if you will, of a consequential shift in the country's internal political geology.

As of last weekend, President Xi Jinping is no longer bound by term limits. Thanks to a change in policy by the Communist Party, he is positioned to become ruler for life.

This is not good. Under Mr. Xi, China has undertaken meaningful economic reforms, many of them positive from a Canadian trade-policy standpoint. But it has also built the planet's most technologically advanced surveillance state.

According to a new report from Human Rights Watch, authorities in Xinjiang region are using Big Data tools and algorithm-driven predictive policing to target the Uyghur ethnic minority, members of which are frequently bundled off to "political education centres" for indefinite detention.

As well, China is a world leader in facial recognition and is developing a system powerful enough to identify any of the country's 1.4-billion people within seconds. It's already being used in Wuhan to shame jay-walkers by flashing their picture and name on large screens. It's a dystopian nightmare.

This is happening as Mr. Xi and his allies, who have purged or ostracized hundreds of thousands of rivals and opponents, work to weaken or co-opt major Chinese political and business institutions.

One should fret over the future of the rule of law in an ever more autocratic Chinese state. But there is no sign of that in the Trudeau government's willingness to engage with Beijing, or in its desire to deepen commercial ties with an economic superpower that wants to buy what we're selling.

The question is this: How involved should we become with this increasingly authoritarian China, given our values and interests? How close is too close?

It's time our country had a public, grown-up debate about this. China's government is about to rid itself of all accountability and become a dictatorship that answers only to one person. It's a recipe for disaster.