One thing seems certain about Xi Jinping’s move to establish himself as China’s dictator for life: The bolder and more openly assertive foreign policy he has pursued since taking power five years ago is here to stay. The conventional wisdom is that the U.S., its Asian allies, and the broader international order are thus in for a rough stretch, as China demands its place in the sun. “Xi’s consolidation of power,” writes my Bloomberg View colleague James Stavridis, “will make China an even more formidable competitor.” Less appreciated, though, is that this approach could also end badly for China, because Xi may be overplaying his country’s hand.
What’s indisputable is that Xi’s approach to foreign affairs marks the culmination of a break with Deng Xiaoping’s famous maxim that China should “hide our capabilities and bide our time.” The basic idea was that China’s neighbors and the U.S. would seek to contain a rising power that too openly displayed its geopolitical ambitions. To discourage foreign hostility, and to ensure access to the trade and investment, Beijing should therefore keep a low profile and avoid picking fights when possible.