There have been endless comparisons about how much China has changed from 2008 to 2022. In truth, the country has transformed profoundly from the time it held its first Summer Olympics to the current Winter Games. But if you are talking about the most important bilateral relationship in the world, those years are even more instructive about the United States. In 2008, the real estate and subprime mortgage market collapse threatened the entire US banking system and triggered the global financial crisis. The Great Recession punctured a myth long believed by Americans and much of the rest of the world. It was that a financial crisis that could threaten an entire economy could only happen elsewhere but never in the US because of the sophistication of its institutions, the cutting-edge skills and knowledge of its financial practitioners and the inherent soundness of its capitalist system. Today is the sixth month since the US military completely withdrew from Afghanistan, its longest war that ended in defeat by a ragtag group of Muslim fundamentalists fighting with basic weapons. It left behind a country facing complete economic collapse and famine. This was despite the trillions of dollars spent and countless lives wasted over two decades. The foundations of global US power are its economy and foreign policy, on which the financial crisis and the war have inflicted indelible damage. There is no doubt that the country will retain many of its advantages such as those of the US dollar and its unrivalled military for a long time. But in international affairs, state powers are relative, rarely absolute. Even if China made no progress with its economy and military, which it actually has done since 2008, it would still have improved its global position relative to the US. The army of foreign doomsayers notwithstanding, for all the policy mistakes Beijing has made in the past two decades, it has managed to avoid those that could threaten an economic collapse or result in an unmitigated foreign misadventure and disaster. The problem with America’s loss of international prestige is that it will progressively be less able to rely on moral suasion or “soft power” to get what it wants. Instead, it will have to exercise brute force or “hard power”. With sports like the Olympics, athletes often win or lose by avoiding or making serious mistakes, rather than brilliance. So do nations.