As the struggle between Beijing and Washington shows signs of becoming a Cold War-style ideological conflict, the epic debate over whether to engage with or confront a rising China has been revived. Neither the engagers nor confronters have figured out how best to deal with an assertive China, but the escalating international backlash against Beijing has prompted some Chinese experts to make the case for some old-fashioned restraint, rather than its “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy. Leading international relations specialists, including Shi Yinhong of Renmin University and Wang Jisi of Peking University, have repeatedly warned of a growing risk that China’s diplomatic and economic resources could be overstretched in the global wrangling with the US and its partners. Why China’s Wang Yi went Wolf Warrior after offering US ‘olive branch’ Beijing has yet to officially acknowledge the problem. In Communist Party-speak, the concept of strategic overreach is not applicable to China – a developing country and rising power – because the conundrum is only faced by established powers or imperial hegemon. But, despite the centralised decision-making and lack of policy discussion in the Xi era, the debate has been simmering for the past decade among Chinese government officials, think tanks and scholars. Their views diverge over whether diplomacy should be more restrained or still further aggressive, but they agree that Beijing’s ambiguity about its end-goal has party contributed to perceptions that China is a threat. There have been some positive gestures over the past week, including a rather moderate reaction from Beijing to US Health Secretary Alex Azar’s Taiwan visit. There were also rare overtures to Washington from Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Xi’s top diplomatic aide Yang Jiechi . The normally combative Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Monday reiterated Wang and Yang’s hopes for cooperation with the US rather than an outright confrontation, and dodged a question about whether their remarks could be viewed as a sign of compromise and weakness. Top China diplomat says Washington should ‘avoid making misjudgments’ It remains an open question whether these gestures can help arrest the precipitous decline in bilateral ties – tilting dangerously towards potential armed conflict – especially when Beijing has shown little inclination to moderate its increasingly harsh stance on Hong Kong . But for people who have been worried about the free-falling relations between the US and China, and particularly the nationalist shift under Xi’s watch towards a belligerent Wolf Warrior style, it is probably a relief to find traditional diplomacy may still be at work.