China has changed the world. It has been too slow to understand that it has also changed the world’s view of China. These are unsettling times for Beijing. Until now China’s rise has been on its own terms. There have been bumps and squalls and the occasional standoff with Washington, but mostly the West has been distracted or amenable. Chinese leaders have grown used to getting their own way. Now, China’s feet are being held to the fire. There is a temptation to imagine that party chiefs have a carefully worked-out strategy in response to the latest package of punitive tariffs announced by US president Donald Trump — the equivalent of a $25bn tax on Chinese exports to the US. It is axiomatic among much western commentary that China always thinks three moves ahead. The signs now are otherwise. Those reading the runes in Beijing say the leadership has been caught badly off guard. Years of deep research into the way America works have been confounded by Trump’s wilful unpredictability....

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