The Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 2007
Jason Lee / Reuters

In foreign policy circles, it has become conventional wisdom that the United States and China are running a “superpower marathon” that may last a century. But the sharpest phase of that competition will be a decadelong sprint. The Sino-American contest for supremacy won’t be settled anytime soon. Yet history and China’s recent trajectory suggest that the moment of maximum danger is just a few years away.

China has entered a particularly perilous period as a rising power: it has gained the capability to disrupt the existing order, but its window to act may be narrowing. The balance of

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