Is China Losing the Diplomatic Plot?

SINGAPORE – In 2016, China’s share of the global economy will be larger than America’s in purchasing-price-parity terms. This is an earth-shaking development; in 1980, when the United States accounted for 25% of world output, China’s share of the global economy was only 2.2%. And yet, after 30 years of geopolitical competence, the Chinese seem to be on the verge of losing it just when they need it most.

China’s leaders would be naïve and foolish to bank on their country’s peaceful and quiet rise to global preeminence. At some point, America will awaken from its geopolitical slumber; there are already signs that it has opened one eye.

But China has begun to make serious mistakes. After Japan acceded to Chinese pressure and released a captured Chinese trawler in September 2010, China went overboard and demanded an apology from Japan, rattling the Japanese establishment.

Similarly, after North Korean shells killed innocent South Korean civilians in November 2010, China remained essentially silent. In a carefully calibrated response, South Korea sent its ambassador to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for the imprisoned Chinese human-rights activist Liu Xiaobo in December 2010.