What does China really want? It professes to aspire to be a global competitor to US power. But that US power is based largely on many decades of shared-interest-based (capitalist and liberal) alliances. These interests are concrete mutual ones such as free trade, mutual defense and free passage. China needs to forge alliances based on equivalent concrete shared values interests that its partners can agree upon. But it’s difficult to see how it can bypass the values that the US champions and still maintain its economic prowess and gain meaningful global alliances in competition with the US. It’s great that China managed to drag Duterte into its camp but the expansionism into the South China sea, towards the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and now towards South Korea is anything but behavior based on shared interests. It is bullying. It reduces the incentives for potential allies to engage with China on an equal basis and increases the view that China views relationships with neighbors as clientist with China being the boss. Chinese commentators will argue that the US’ relationships with weaker partners also is clientist. It may be true up to a point but not in matters of degree. Plus I doubt that anyone in China thinks China should grow prominent in the same way that the US now is.
China needs to work on its PR & marketing. Why would people want China? What benefit is there in comparison to the current hegemonic service provider they’re used to, the US? Does China offer more for less, or is it all talk behind which shoals are upgraded to territory and then annexed and behind which neighbors are bullied into behaving the way China wants?