China has studied every great power’s rise — but did it miss the class about decline?
In recent years, the Chinese have been telling themselves similar things, given the country’s internal dynamism and external activism in building a new layer of global infrastructure through its Belt and Road Initiative. But much as America has abused its privileged status by cajoling allies toward policies counter to their own interests and imposing wanton sanctions that inhibit meaningful progress in rehabilitating pariah states such as Iran and North Korea, China has very quickly crossed the line from receiving fraternal goodwill to permanent suspicion.
From the Himalayas to the South China Sea, its aggressive pursuit of micro-territories has ensured that more than three billion Asians may never trust it again. Arabs, Africans and Latin Americans are trimming their exposure to Chinese debt and projects. For its part, the European Union has just declared China a “systemic rival.” China has been so busy winning battles that it doesn’t realize it may already have lost the war.