China usually gets its way. In Washington, on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms, Beijing has used the country’s size and promise for decades to quell opposition and reward those who helped its rise.
Those days may be coming to an end.
As it struggles with President Trump’s trade war, a maturing and debt-laden China is discovering that it no longer has the same pull. Members of both political parties in the United States favor a tougher stance against Beijing. Some old business allies are standing on the sidelines or even cheering the Trump administration’s strong stands.
China could still prevail on the trade war’s major issues. But the conflict’s length and severity reflect the growing perception that the country no longer holds the promise that once enthralled politicians and businesses in the United States.
Many American companies with large, profitable businesses in China do not want to pay expensive tariffs and worry that the United States is antagonizing the Chinese public, said Ker Gibbs, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. But many of the same businesses also chafe at the numerous restrictions that China has long maintained on foreign companies.
“We’re looking at their expanding into global markets, and saying, ‘Wait a minute, why can’t we do that here?’” Mr. Gibbs said.
China’s economic slowdown, which could hinder growth globally, is a major reason its influence has ebbed. But there are other factors. The country’s heavy debts, built up over years of lending used to spur growth, limit its options. If it retaliates against the United States sharply by devaluing its currency or shutting factories crucial to global supply chains, the moves could ricochet and hurt its own newfound wealth.