China’s rise has been so rapid yet gentle in tone that it’s easy to miss how fast Beijing has expanded its ability to project power. The mesmerizing go-slow style of the pre-Xi years, summarized in the Chinese slogan “hide and bide,” has been replaced by what U.S. analysts now see as an open power play.
Trump’s “America first” strategy has facilitated China’s buildup, unintentionally. The administration’s rhetoric on fair trade has been strong, but the actual gains have been modest. Meanwhile, Trump has shredded the Trans-Pacific Partnership and stepped back from other U.S.-led alliances — opening the way for China’s new network of global institutions, including the “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) plan for Eurasian trade and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to finance Chinese-led projects.