Similarly, restrictions on studying in the UK would hurt China more. Currently, about 120,000 Chinese study in the UK. The challenge for China is that there are few good alternatives if it wants to send students elsewhere. The US is considering restricting Chinese students on national-security grounds. China has threatened Australia that it will reduce the number of Chinese tourists and students. Canadian universities, which now host about 140,000 Chinese students, have limited capacity. With China and Canada embroiled in a diplomatic standoff over the extradition to the US of Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, it is unlikely that China will send more students there.

This merely illustrates the daunting reality Xi now faces: China is fast losing friends just when it needs them most. In the last few months alone, China’s relations with India have suffered a devastating blow after a bloody border clash left at least 20 Indian soldiers (and an unspecified number of Chinese soldiers) dead. To punish Australia for daring to call for an international investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus, China imposed tariffs on Australian barley and threatened other punitive measures. On July 14, China’s foreign ministry denounced Japan’s recent Defense White Paper in unusually harsh language, raising doubts about the rapprochement Xi has been trying to engineer with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.