“Probably not” is the conclusion of my latest Bloomberg column. Here is one excerpt:
The Soviets had a string of leaders who were well-suited to play movie villains. Stalin murdered millions and radiated evil. Khrushchev was more moderate in terms of domestic policy, but in New York he banged his shoe on the table and shouted “We will bury you!” He also moved Soviet nuclear weapons into Cuba. Brezhnev came across as a crusty, malevolent stiff.
Chinese president Xi Jinping, in contrast, looks and acts not much different than many other world leaders. The standing joke in China, though often banned on Chinese social media, is to compare him to Winnie the Pooh because of his posture, his walk and what sometimes appears to be a kind of ambling geniality. As for earlier Chinese leaders, post-Mao, most didn’t have much of a profile in the U.S. at all.
Do read the whole thing. International rivalries can indeed help make countries great, but so far the American rivalry with China is not having that effect, and probably will not anytime soon.
Note furthermore that China’s “low publicity” approach implies the biggest China hawks and warners should be those who know the country relatively well (as opposed to the usual equilibrium where the expats are more sympathetic), a regularity which I believe is born out by the facts (thanks to D. for this point).