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China’s chance

While America has been distracted by the war on terror, authoritarian Beijing has been spreading its influence through east Asia and beyond. In fact, for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, US "soft power" is being challenged by a state which is capable of wielding comparable economic and cultural clout

In the autumn of 2000, while working as a reporter in Bangkok, I was sent to Laos for a story. Since I knew I would be spending several days in the somnolent capital, Vientiane, I called an acquaintance who lived there, a smart woman who I hoped might take a romantic interest in me. We met one evening and she suggested that we find one of the quaint stands overlooking the broad Mekong river and sip cold beers.

Unfortunately, the stands were hard to find. Jiang Zemin was in town, on the first state visit by a Chinese leader to…

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