SINGAPORE – In ancient times, Chinese emperors never traveled to another country to meet its new ruler. Rather, that ruler, or his envoy, would visit China’s imperial capital to request investiture from the Son of Heaven.
The fact that Chinese President Xi Jinping has traveled thousands of miles to meet US President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago, rather than receiving Trump in the Forbidden City, suggests that China recognizes its own status as a lesser power vis-à-vis the United States.
But that does not mean that Xi considers this status to be permanent. On the contrary, he might be anticipating that the two countries’ strategic standing will change very quickly if the US does not do more to preserve its global primacy.
Discussions about China’s rise and America’s relative decline have been ongoing for almost a decade. But the notion that China would replace the US as the dominant global power was not considered plausible – by either the Chinese or observers around the world – until Trump’s presidency.