We got China wrong. Now what?

Remember how American engagement with China was going to make that communist backwater more like the democratic, capitalist West?

For years, both Republican and Democratic administrations argued that the gravitational pull of U.S.-dominated international institutions, trade flows, even pop culture, would gradually reshape the People’s Republic, resulting in a moderate new China with which the United States and its Asian allies could comfortably coexist.

Well, Chinese President Xi Jinping has just engineered his potential elevation to president for life. This is the latest proof — along with China’s rampant theft of U.S. intellectual property, its military buildup in the South China Sea and Xi’s touting of Chinese-style illiberal state capitalism as “a new option for other countries” — that the powers-that-be in Beijing have their own agenda, impervious to U.S. influence.

“We in the U.S. foreign policy community have remained deeply invested in expectations about China . . . even as evidence against them has accumulated,” two self-critical ex-Obama administration Asia hands, Kurt M. Campbell and Ely Ratner, admit in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine.