China Is Not Ten Feet Tall

China, the story goes, is inexorably rising and on the verge of overtaking a faltering United States. China has become the largest engine of global economic growth, the largest trading nation, and the largest destination for foreign investment. It has locked in major trade and investment deals in Asia and Europe and is using the Belt and Road Initiative—the largest development project of the twenty-first century—to win greater influence in every corner of the world. It is exporting surveillance tools, embedding technology in 5G communications networks, and using cyber-capabilities to both steal sensitive information and shape political discourse overseas. It is converting economic and political weight into military might, using civil-military fusion to develop cutting-edge capabilities and bullying its neighbors, including U.S. allies and partners such as Australia, India, and Taiwan. And at home, it is ruthlessly cracking down everywhere from Hong Kong to Xinjiang, with little concern about criticism from the United States and other democratic governments.

Among the most eager purveyors of this story line are China’s government-affiliated media outlets. Projecting self-assurance, they have also gone out of their way to contrast their own achievements with plentiful examples of American dysfunction. They point to images of insurrectionists storming the U.S. Capitol and of American citizens standing in line for water during power outages in Texas as evidence of the decay of “Western democracy.” They celebrate China’s success in “defeating” COVID-19 and reopening the country, while the United States and other Western countries still struggle to stop the spread of the virus. “Time and momentum are on our side,” Chinese President Xi Jinping declared in a speech at the Communist Party’s Fifth Plenum last fall. In January, Chen Yixin, a top security official, told a Chinese Communist Party study session, “The rise of the East and decline of the West has become a trend.”

Authoritarian systems excel at showcasing their strengths and concealing their weaknesses. But policymakers in Washington must be able to distinguish between the image Beijing presents and the realities it confronts. China is the second most powerful country in the world and the most formidable competitor the United States has faced in decades. Yet at the same time, and in spite of its many visible defects, the United States remains the stronger power in the U.S.-Chinese relationship—and it has good reason to think it can stay that way. For all the obstacles facing the United States, those facing China are considerably greater.

During the Cold War, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger cautioned against “ten-foot-tall syndrome”: the tendency among U.S. policymakers to view their Soviet competitors as towering figures of immense strength and overwhelming intellect. A similar syndrome has taken hold in the United States today, and the harms are not just analytical. Concentrating on China’s strengths without accounting for its vulnerabilities creates anxiety. Anxiety breeds insecurity. Insecurity leads to overreaction, and overreaction produces bad decisions that undermine the United States’ own competitiveness. Seeing China clearly is the first step toward getting China policy right.


China poses the most direct test of U.S. foreign policy in decades. Not since the Cold War has a country seriously contested U.S. leadership in multiple regions of the world simultaneously. The combination of military strength, economic weight, and global ambition makes China a different—and more complex—challenge than the Soviet Union presented during the Cold War.

In recent years, Beijing has made plain its revisionist ambitions. It seeks adjustments to the distribution of power in the international system, the security order in Asia, the role and remit of international institutions, the free flow of uncensored information across borders, and the liberal nature of the existing international order. It wants its Leninist political model and state-led economic model to be accepted and respected. It has signaled that it will brook no challenges to its conception of its territorial boundaries or its management of domestic affairs. And it has declared a national goal of becoming the world leader in a growing number of advanced technologies, from artificial intelligence to electric vehicles.

But it is hardly a foregone conclusion that China will travel a linear path toward realizing its goals. For an accurate measure of the challenges China poses to U.S. interests, Beijing’s strengths must be evaluated alongside its vulnerabilities. Xi and his advisers face as stiff a set of challenges as almost anyone else in the world.

The United States remains the stronger power in the U.S.-Chinese relationship.

Consider China’s seemingly unstoppable economic ascent. In reality, the challenges over the medium term are significant. China is at risk of growing old before it grows rich, becoming a graying society with degrading economic fundamentals that impede growth. The working-age population is already shrinking; by 2050, China will go from having eight workers per retiree now two workers per retiree. Moreover, it has already squeezed out most of the large productivity gains that come with a population becoming more educated and urban and adopting technologies to make manufacturing more efficient. China is running out of productive places to invest in infrastructure, and rising debt levels will further complicate its growth path. In the past decade alone, China’s debt has more than doubled, from 141 percent of GDP in 2008 to over 300 percent in 2019. Ballooning debt will make it harder for China to buy its way up the ladder from low-end manufacturing to high value-added production, as South Korea and Taiwan did at similar levels of development.

Meanwhile, the political system is growing increasingly sclerotic as power becomes more concentrated around Xi. Once renowned for technocratic competence, the Chinese Communist Party is becoming better known for Leninist rigidity. Space for local policy experimentation appears to be shrinking, as more decisions become concentrated in Beijing. The top-down nature of the system has also made it more difficult for officials to revisit past decisions or report bad news to the top. This dynamic likely contributed to the slow early response to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan. Although the leadership has made notable gains in alleviating extreme poverty, it also has become increasingly anxious and uncompromising in clamping down on perceived challenges to its authority. Beijing’s rigid ethos for imposing its will along the country’s peripheral regions, including but not limited to Xinjiang, may bring future problems. Externally, China faces formidable obstacles to its ambitions. Beijing’s repression at home, assertiveness abroad, and efforts to conceal critical initial details surrounding the coronavirus pandemic have contributed to rising negative views toward China. According to Pew polling from October 2020, unfavorable views of China have reached historic highs across a diverse set of countries. Beijing is also likely to encounter rising budgetary constraints on its massive overseas initiatives in the coming years, as it contends with both a cooling economy and rising demands from an aging society.

From a strategic perspective, China’s military likely will remain relatively constrained for the foreseeable future in its ability to project force beyond its immediate periphery, let alone to marry power projection with political and economic influence on a global scale—definitional features of a superpower. China confronts a uniquely challenging geography. It is bordered by 14 countries, four of which are nuclear armed and five of which harbor unresolved territorial disputes with Beijing. These include an aging but wealthy Japan, a rising and nationalistic India, a revanchist Russia, a technologically powerful South Korea, and a dynamic and determined Vietnam. All these countries have national identities that resist subordination to China or its interests. And the United States maintains a constant forward-deployed military presence in the region, supported by basing and access agreements in countries along China’s periphery.  

China is also vulnerable when it comes to food and energy security. It lacks enough arable land to feed its population and imports roughly half its oil from the Middle East. In a conflict, Chinese naval capacity would be insufficient to prevent China from being cut off from vital supplies. Beijing is working to address this vulnerability, but there are no quick or easy solutions.


Washington’s bipartisan move in recent years to a hard-line approach to China has been driven above all by Beijing: Chinese leaders have grown more impatiently aggressive in the pursuit of their ambitions and have increasingly leaned on nationalism, particularly as ideology and economic performance have become diminishing sources of social cohesion. But much of the shift in Washington has also been driven by a growing sense of panic about China’s strengths, leading to a bout of American insecurity.

Such panic is unlikely to prove constructive: an alarmed focus on degrading China’s strengths risks causing the United States to focus too little on the more essential task of bolstering its own. Any attempt to use the China threat to spur domestic reform or overcome domestic division is likely to do more harm than good. At home, inflating the China threat will encourage the political weaponization of the issue, with China serving as a tool for ambitious politicians to discredit opponents for being weak. Abroad, such an approach will widen divisions with allies and partners, almost none of whom share Washington’s view that China is an existential threat. And it is likely to encourage policies that in an effort to harm China, end up doing equal or greater harm to the United States—including by foreclosing coordination with Beijing on issues of vital importance to Americans.

It is hardly a foregone conclusion that China will travel a linear path toward realizing its goals.

The Trump administration’s trade policies offer a clear demonstration of this dynamic. Tariffs on Chinese imports were sold as a tool to compel Chinese capitulation to U.S. concerns about unfair trading practices. In fact, they had little success in forcing desired economic changes in China, and they triggered Chinese retaliation that did plenty of harm in the United States: a rising trade deficit, losses to U.S. farmers that resulted in a $28 billion bailout, and the elimination of an estimated 245,000 jobs.  

The United States has good reason to be confident about its ability to compete with China. The U.S. economy is still $7 trillion larger than China’s. The United States enjoys energy and food security, comparatively healthy demographics, the world’s finest higher education system, and possession of the world’s reserve currency. It benefits from peaceful borders and favorable geography. It boasts an economy that allocates capital efficiently and traditionally serves as a sponge for the brightest thinkers and the best ideas in the world. It has a transparent and predictable legal system and a political system that is designed to spur self-correction. China has none of these attributes.  

Self-confidence should foster a steady, patient, and wise response to China’s rise—one that can attract broad support at home and abroad. Some elements of this approach will require standing up to Chinese actions that challenge U.S. interests and values even while pushing Beijing to contribute more to efforts to address transnational challenges, such as building a global disease surveillance network and decarbonizing the global economy. At the same time, U.S. policymakers will need to accept that coexistence means accepting competition as a condition to be managed rather than a problem to be solved, as Kurt Campbell and Jake Sullivan (now White House Asia coordinator and national security adviser, respectively) argued in these pages in 2019. Above all, the United States will need to “measure up to its own best traditions and prove itself worthy of preservation as a great nation,” as George Kennan put it early in the Cold War.

The more the United States can restore confidence that it is the country best prepared in the world to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century, the better it will be able to focus attention where it matters most: not on slowing China down but on strengthening itself. To compete effectively with China, Washington will need to focus on bolstering the United States’ domestic dynamism, international prestige, and unmatched global network of alliances and partnerships. These are the real keys to the United States’ strength, and China cannot take them away.


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Nifty today: SGX Nifty gains 14 points; here’s what changed for market while you were sleeping

Domestic stocks may take a breather after rallying in the previous two sessions, thanks to mixed signals from other Asian markets. All eyes would be on the Rs 596 crore MTAR IPO opening today.

Here’s the breaking down of the pre-market actions:

State of Markets

SGX Nifty signals positive start

Nifty futures on the Singapore Exchange traded 14 points, or 0.09 per cent, higher at 14,997 in signs that Dalal Street was headed for a positive start on Wednesday.

Tech View: Nifty hurdle at 20-DMA

Nifty50 on Tuesday climbed over 1 per cent and settled above the 14,900 mark. The index formed a bullish candle on the daily chart, with a long lower wick, suggesting that every intraday selling got bought into. Analysts said the 15,000 level will be a key hurdle for Nifty50 to watch out for.

Asian shares mixed in early trade

Asian shares were trading mostly mixed on Wednesday. Japan’s Nikkei fell 0.18 per cent to 29,355.64.China’s Shanghai Composite rose 0.42 per cent to 3,523.20. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng climbed 1.13 per cent to 29,425. Korea’s Kospi edged 0.3 per cent lower.

US stocks settled lower

Stocks closed lower on Wall Street after a wobbly day, giving back some of their big gains from a day earlier. The S&P 500 fell 31.53 points to 3,870.29. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 143.99 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 31,391.52. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite dropped 230.04 points, or 1.7 per cent, to 13,358.79.

MTAR IPO to hit market today

The Rs 596 crore IPO by a precision engineering company MTAR Technologies hit the market today. On Tuesday, the company raised Rs 178.92 crore from 15 anchor investors at Rs. 575 per share including Nomura Funds Ireland, Jupiter South Asia Investment, White Oak Capital and Goldman Sachs India.

FIIs buy Rs 2,223 crore worth stocks

Net-net, foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) were buyers of domestic stocks to the tune of Rs 2,223 crore, data available with NSE suggested. DIIs were net sellers to the tune of Rs 854 crore, data suggests.

Money markets

Rupee: The rupee rose by 18 paise to close at 73.37 against the US dollar on Tuesday, ending its three-day losing streak on the back of gains in domestic equities amid improving risk appetite.

10-year bonds: India 10-year bond yield rose 0.43 per cent to 6.23 after trading in 6.18-6.23 range.

Call rates: The overnight call money rate weighted average stood at 3.21 per cent, according to RBI data. It moved in a range of 1.90-3.50 per cent.

Data/events to watch

  • India Markit Services PMI Feb (10:30 am)
  • US Total Vehicle Sales Feb (05:30 am)
  • Japan Jibun Bank Services PMI Final Feb (06:00 am)
  • China Caixin Services PMI Feb (07:15 am)
  • Euro Area Markit Services PMI Final Feb (02:30 pm)
  • UK Markit/CIPS UK Services PMI Final Feb (03:00 pm)
  • UK Budget 2021 (06:00 pm)


RBI intervenes to arrest rupee slide… RBI is said to have intervened lately in the currency market to arrest the rupee’s slide that, many believe, owes more to speculative trade than the business fundamentals of a fast-reviving economy. The central bank is reportedly selling dollars on a large scale after nearly three quarters to stem the local unit’s value erosion, dealers said. The rupee ended a three-day losing streak, climbing 18 paise to 73.37 to a dollar. Since February 25, the day before the US Treasury benchmark hit a recent high of 1.62%, the rupee has lost nearly 1.5% to the dollar.

NBFCs, HFCs told to check money laundering… RBI has asked several NBFCs, housing finance companies and co-operative banks to get their house in order over the anti-money laundering monitoring mechanism and risk-based assessment, two people with knowledge of the matter said. The central bank has raised concerns around these mechanisms for at least 50 entities, and asked them to complete these tasks by the end of March.

S&P red-flags Covid spike… Global ratings agency S&P is closely monitoring the recent spike in Covid-19 cases in India and the reimposition of restrictions on movement and behaviour, Andrew Wood, its director of sovereign and international public finance ratings, said. The agency raised concerns over the potential cooling impact the resurgence in cases could have on India’s economic recovery if it turned into a more broad-based trend.

India’s exports dipped in Feb… India’s exports dipped 0.3% to $27.7 billion, largely due to lower global oil prices, while imports rose 7% to $40.6 billion, resulting in a higher trade deficit. Preliminary numbers released by the commerce department on Tuesday estimated trade deficit at $12.9 billion, compared to $9.9 billion in the corresponding period last year, but a tad lower than January 2021 level of $14.5 billion.

Spectrum sale fetches govt Rs 78K cr… India’s first spectrum auction in five years ended on day two, with the government mopping up ₹77,814 crore. The government will get ₹19,000-20,000 crore in upfront payment this month, and around ₹10,000 crore in the next fiscal. Reliance Jio, which faced a mustbuy situation in18 circles to ensure continued service, bid for 488.35 MHz of bandwidth worth ₹57,122.65 crore, and accounted for 73% of the total auction proceeds. Bharti Airtel bought 355.45 MHz of spectrum for ₹18,698.75 crore, and Vodafone Idea, financially the weakest of the three private telcos, paid ₹1,993.40 crore to buy 11.8 MHz of airwaves across five circles.

FMCG firms eye online-only brands… Large, traditional fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies such as Nestle, Reckitt Benckiser, Wipro Consumer Care, Marico and Tata Consumer said they are intensifying focus on online-only brands and businesses. They are either setting up dedicated venture funds or investing in smaller startups that sell through online channels to consumers in response to ecommerce sales doubling and niche, evolving categories that emerged amid the pandemic.

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Generation Lockdown: Schoolchildren Around the World Face a Steep Uphill Battle

At home with the Pereira Bernardo Ferreira in Rio de Janeiro: Sisters Deborah and Esther are trying to keep up even with their school closed.

At home with the Pereira Bernardo Ferreira in Rio de Janeiro: Sisters Deborah and Esther are trying to keep up even with their school closed.

Foto: Evgeny Makarov / DER SPIEGEL

The Pereira Bernardo Ferreira family in front of their home in a Rio de Janeiro favela

The Pereira Bernardo Ferreira family in front of their home in a Rio de Janeiro favela

Foto: Evgeny Makarov / DER SPIEGEL

Mechanic Salman Pasha in India: "My parents always told me: If you work hard, you'll get somewhere."

Mechanic Salman Pasha in India: “My parents always told me: If you work hard, you’ll get somewhere.”

Foto: Mahesh Shantaram / DER SPIEGEL

An Indian family in the Tumakuru District, located in the state of Karnataka: Often, a family's immediate needs take precedence over education.

An Indian family in the Tumakuru District, located in the state of Karnataka: Often, a family’s immediate needs take precedence over education.

Foto: Mahesh Shantaram / DER SPIEGEL

The twins Esther and Deborah in Brazil: Nobody knows when schooling will return to normal.

The twins Esther and Deborah in Brazil: Nobody knows when schooling will return to normal.

Foto: Evgeny Makarov / DER SPIEGEL

A slum in Nairobi, Kenya: Around the world, millions of children have no longer been able to benefit from school meals since the coronavirus lockdowns.

A slum in Nairobi, Kenya: Around the world, millions of children have no longer been able to benefit from school meals since the coronavirus lockdowns.

Foto: Brian Otieno / GGImages / Der Spiegel

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100 Years Ago in Photos: A Look Back at 1921

A century ago, Russia was enduring a terrible famine, the Irish Free State was created, U.S. President Warren Harding was inaugurated, the Tulsa Race Massacre took place in Oklahoma, a new machine called a “dishwasher” was introduced, New York’s Madison Square Garden was home to “the world’s largest indoor swimming pool,” and much more. Please take a moment to look back at some of the events and sights from around the world 100 years ago.

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Nigerian governor says 279 kidnapped schoolgirls are freed

Hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls abducted last week from a boarding school in the northwestern Zamfara state have been released, the state’s governor said Tuesday.

Zamfara state governor Bello Matawalle announced that 279 girls have been freed. The government last week said 317 had been kidnapped.

Gunmen abducted the girls from the Government Girls Junior Secondary School in Jangebe town on Friday, in the latest in a series of mass kidnappings of students in the West African nation.

An Associated Press reporter saw hundreds of girls dressed in light blue hijabs and barefoot sitting at the state Government House office in Gusau.

After the meeting, the girls were escorted outside by officials and lined up to be taken away in vans. They appeared calm and ranged in ages from 10 and up.

Matawalle said they would be taken for medical examinations before being reunited with their families.

“Alhamdulillah! (God be praised!) It gladdens my heart to announce the release of the abducted students of GGSS Jangebe from captivity. This follows the scaling of several hurdles laid against our efforts. I enjoin all well-meaning Nigerians to rejoice with us as our daughters are now safe,” Matawalle said in a post on Twitter early Tuesday.

At the time of the attack, one resident told AP that the gunmen also attacked a nearby military camp and checkpoint, preventing soldiers from responding to the mass abduction at the school.

One of the girls recounted the night of their abduction to the AP.

“We were sleeping at night when suddenly we started hearing gunshots. They were shooting endlessly. We got out of our beds and people said we should run, that they are thieves,” she said. “Everybody fled and there were just two of us left in the room.”

The attackers held guns to the girls’ heads, she said.

“I was really afraid of being shot,” she said, adding that they asked for directions to the staff quarters and the principal. “We said we don’t know who she is. They said the principal is our father and they will teach us a lesson.”

Police and the military had since been carrying out joint operations to rescue the girls, whose abduction caused international outrage.

President Muhammadu Buhari expressed “overwhelming joy” over the release of the girls.

“I join the families and people of Zamfara State in welcoming and celebrating the release of these traumatised female students,” he said in a statement. “Being held in captivity is an agonising experience not only for the victims, but also their families and all of us.”

The president called for greater vigilance to prevent bandits from carrying out such attacks.

He urged police and military to pursue the kidnappers, and warned that policies of making payments to bandits will backfire.

“Ransom payments will continue to prosper kidnapping,” he said.

The terms of the female students’ release were not made immediately clear.

Nigeria has seen several such attacks and kidnappings in recent years. On Saturday, 24 students, six staff and eight relatives were released after being abducted on February 17 from the Government Science College Kagara in Niger state. In December, more than 300 schoolboys from a secondary school in Kankara, in northwestern Nigeria, were taken and later released. The government has said no ransom was paid for the students’ release.

The most notorious kidnapping was in April 2014, when 276 girls were abducted by the jihadist rebels of Boko Haram from the secondary school in Chibok in Borno state. More than 100 of those girls are still missing. Boko Haram is opposed to western education and its fighters often target schools.

Other organised armed groups, locally called bandits, often abduct students for money. The government says large groups of armed men in Zamfara state are known to kidnap for money and to press for the release of their members held in jail.

Experts say if the kidnappings continue to go unpunished, they may continue.

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Trump slams ‘gutless’ Court; Kavanaugh breaks with conservatives; ‘Socially liberal’?

Analysis by WorldTribune Staff, March 1, 2021 Former President Donald Trump on Sunday blasted the Supreme Court for refusing to hear cases regarding the disputed 2020 presidential election. “We have a very sick and corrupt electoral process,” Trump said on Sunday at CPAC 2021. “This election was rigged and the Supreme Court … didn’t want […]

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COVID-19 likely of animal origin, not made in Wuhan lab, says WHO

It was not clear, Chaib added, how the virus had jumped the species barrier to humans but there had “certainly” been an intermediate animal host.

“It most likely has its ecological reservoir in bats but how the virus came from bats to humans is still to be seen and discovered.”

She did not respond to a request to elaborate on whether it was possible the virus may have inadvertently escaped from a lab.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology has dismissed rumours both that it synthesised the virus or allowed it to escape.


Chaib, asked about the impact of Trump’s decision last week to suspend funding to the UN agency over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, said: “We are still assessing the situation about the announcement by President Trump … and we will assess the situation and we will work with our partners to fill any gaps.”

“It is very important to continue what we are doing not only for COVID but for many, many, many, many other health programs,” she added, referring to action against polio, HIV and malaria among other diseases.

She said that the WHO was 81 per cent funded for the next two years as of the end of March, referring to its $US4.8 billion ($7.6 billion) biennial budget.

The United States is the Geneva-based agency’s biggest donor.

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The First Vaccine Doses from COVAX Have Been Administered

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Covid-19: Officials hunt Brazil virus variant case in England

The whereabouts of one infected person is unknown, as they did not give their full contact details.

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China can ‘chokehold’ rare earths supply

Former Pentagon advisor Jason Israel says President Joe Biden’s 100 day review of supply chains will be “of significance to Australia” because it will look at rare earths.

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