The Chinese experience is that the US regularly blinks first—and works harder for Chinese attention than China is willing to work for US attention. This gives it an edge in the Sino-American relationship that many in the Chinese government actually aren’t particularly comfortable with. They want a stronger United States, one with vision and one that’s willing to continue to set the terms of the global order that China is prospering in.
Unfortunately, what they see instead is a desperate country that swings between appeasement of China’s geoeconomic and geopolitical appetite on one side, and fear of China and talk about containing or punishing or imposing surcharges on it on the other.
It’s ironic then that these two extremes, which China believes demonstrate the United States is forfeiting its dominance in the international system, validate China’s sense of importance and evolving swagger, one which many in Beijing actually believe is a ‘fragile swagger’ that’s not yet ready for primetime.