John Sudworth for the BBC
Ten days ago Xi Jinping walked out in front of the world’s media – depleted somewhat by his government’s growing intolerance of foreign reporters – as the most powerful Chinese leader in decades.
A tradition that limited his recent predecessors to two terms had been broken. And third term in hand, he had cemented his power over China, perhaps indefinitely.
But even as Mr Xi’s grip tightens at home, on the international stage the situation has rarely looked more unsettled.
The more the Communist Party leader has reinforced China’s authoritarian model, the more he has challenged a defining assumption of our age of globalisation – as China got richer, it would become freer.
That assumption drove decades of trade and engagement between Washington and Beijing.
It was the bedrock for an economic partnership that would eventually see more than half a trillion dollars’ worth of goods cross the Pacific Ocean every year.
As Mr Xi begins his third term, he faces an ongoing trade war with the US and a fresh attempt to deny China access to high-end American chip-making technology that, according to some commentators, is designed to slow China’s rise “at any price”.
Beijing argues that the recent, marked chill in relations is driven by America’s desire to maintain its position as the pre-eminent world power.
This is a long way from the days when both US and Chinese leaders would declare that mutual enrichment would eventually outweigh ideological differences and tensions between an established superpower and a rising one.
So how did we get here?
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