China is well aware that neither the West nor its neighbors can afford a direct confrontation. From a military standpoint, the hardliners in China believe that they can afford to constantly push the boundaries of their territorial claims without triggering a massive backlash.
With its soft-power overtures, China has tried to expand its influence without disquieting its neighbors and trade partners. But through its hard-power posturing, China has achieved the exact opposite.
If the United States and other nations persist in engaging with China within the realm of public diplomacy, China might be nudged toward increased openness. This could enable the newest superpower to continue to rely on soft power.
China's soft power agenda has become a dangerous fault line. It will be an extraordinary challenge for China's new leadership to strengthen the country's cultural sphere while also maintaining the kind of global engagement that will make greater soft power useful.