But the truth is that while people may dress differently, pray differently and eat different foods (though we all like to share and swap with each other, to be honest), there is much more that unites us than divides us. It is unclear from the article about what is on the verge of disappearing, but I know my life and the lives of really everyone I know are not so different to how they were prior to 2001 other than experiencing the same changes as everyone else with the internet and so on. Our TVs remain swamped with American produce and believe me you can still get plenty of hamburgers in every town in the UK – some of them even produced by immigrants.
It is not just that seeking to placate the public at home with braggadocio overseas will make it harder still for China to garner allies and respect. There is a deeper problem. Many countries around the world admire, and would like to emulate, the undemocratic but effective way that China has managed its decades of growth. If China’s domestic politics look less stable, some of that admiration will wane. And even if things can be held together, for the time being, admiration for China does not translate into affection for it, or into a sense of common cause. Economically and militarily, China has come a long way towards regaining the centrality in Asia it enjoyed through much of history. Intellectually and morally, it has not. In the old days it held a “soft power” so strong, according to William Kirby of Harvard University, that “neighbours converted themselves” to it. Now, Mr Xi may know how to assert himself and how to be feared, at home and abroad. But without the ability to exert a greater power of attraction, too, such strength will always tend to destabilise.