Australia may be chewing gum on China’s shoe, but Xi Jinping should consider the other 800-pound gorilla in the room.

Authoritarian countries have always been difficult for Western democracies to comprehend. Winston Churchill famously characterised Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. But unravelling the mystery of China has proved even more difficult for the West despite centuries of trade and interaction.

China’s different political culture, traditions and opacity are obvious reasons. Another is our thin China expertise. So it should come as no surprise that most Australians are genuinely bewildered by President Xi Jinping’s decision to unleash his wolf-warrior diplomats on an askance world, aggressively asserting China’s interests from cosmopolitan Europe to the icy heights of the Himalayas and the seas of the Western Pacific.

This has provoked an entirely predictable push-back from the US and deepened the emerging cold war. Thursday’s speech by US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, is a blunt and sweeping rejection of China’s authoritarian political system and a call for democracies to stand up to Chinese “tyranny”.

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