If Beijing stops and looks around, its friends aren’t doing too well. Its “no limits” comrade in Moscow just survived a mercenary mutiny with a column of a few thousand irregulars and ex-criminals almost strolling into the capital. And Iran is still reeling from protests after Mahsa Amini died in “morality police” custody last year.
The “anti-hegemonic” coalition of China, Russia and Iran, as former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski forecast in 1997 (what historian Niall Ferguson now calls the “axis of ill will”), looks increasingly fragile.
Nearer home, Laos is so badly in debt to China that Beijing is likely to have to write off billions of dollars at some point – not a great look for the export of its infrastructure-led development model. Myanmar’s junta wants Beijing to offer international cover as it perpetuates civil war, but also wants to weaken its dependency on China through engagement with India and Russia. Pakistan is, as the Economist put it, in “perma-crisis”.