If the 2008 Olympics were China's big coming-out party, and 2009 the year that Beijing merely managed to save global capitalism with its rapid -- and accurate -- stimulus package, then one might assume 2010 holds even better things in store for the People's Republic. After all, just about everybody now recognizes the "superiority" of China's authoritarian capitalism over the West's free market variety.
And yet, already the backpressure is building, as evidenced by the "Google wars" over Internet freedom, Western resentment over Beijing's perceived bullying at the Copenhagen climate change conference, the Obama administration's determination to follow through on Taiwan arms sales despite China's threats of "consequences," and none-too-subtle noises from the U.S., the EU and other BRICs over the yuan's piggybacking on the dollar's recent decline.
If anything, Beijing's "smile diplomacy" seems to be faltering. Over time, all that the world has come to see in that oddly frozen expression are the sharp teeth and ravenous appetite behind it. Unsurprisingly, our pundits -- and much of the blogosphere -- are stampeding like spooked cattle in a closed pen. First, they dash off to the far wall, seeking escape in frantic declarations that all power is shifting from West to East and that China is on the verge of capturing the entire century. But once they dead-end there, they turn and storm back in a frenzy, predicting "clashes" and demanding all manner of confrontation.