China's not a superpower

But although China’s economic influence is growing — it is now the lead trade partner for 124 countries, compared to just 76 for the United States — its power to influence other nations is slight. It has achieved little of what policymakers call “capture,” a condition in which economic or security dependence of one country on another allows the more powerful to drive the other’s policy making.

Only in countries like North Korea, Cambodia and Laos does China have that kind of heft; in North Korea, for example, China provides 90 percent of the country’s energy and 80 percent of its consumer goods. But these are not the sorts of allies that help an emerging power extend its influence.

Based on the size of their commercial relationships with China as a share of their overall economies, the governments next closest to “China capture” are Pakistan and Myanmar. But Beijing’s reluctance to undermine improving relations with India or to become more deeply implicated in Pakistan’s chaotic domestic politics will prevent a closer embrace. Myanmar is moving away from China on its own. Its recent political and economic opening signals an effort to better diversify its international partners to avoid too deep a dependence on Beijing.