By Minxin Pei: While many have feared its rise, a weaker China struggling with economic and political challenges at home may present an even greater challenge.
One of the questions on the minds of most China watchers these days is how Beijing will behave externally when it faces a far more difficult internal environment. Of the well-recognized challenges China will encounter in the coming years are its deteriorating economic dynamism, a structure of decision-making with diffused power and uncertain authority, rising nationalism, growing demand for political reform, and widespread popular disenchantment with the status quo.
In totality, these internal difficulties will reduce the resources available to maintain and expand China's influence around the world, constrain the Chinese military's ability to accelerate its modernization, and make Chinese leaders more reluctant to assume greater international or regional responsibilities. Most worryingly, erratic behavior driven by a mixture of lack of leadership experience and political security will most likely mark Beijing's foreign policy conduct in the coming years.