“It is quite difficult for the Chinese government even to appear to be weak,” says Li. “And the new leadership understands the usefulness of using external crises to unite the domestic population to position themselves politically to push for reforms and their domestic program in China.”
This heightens the danger. First, there is a clear temptation to create a crisis, and that temptation will rise if and when the party's position weakens. Second, if China takes a step too far in setting up its buffer, it may be unable to step back.
With Michael Bruno and Michael Fabey in Washington and Adrian Schofield in Wellington, New Zealand.