China is about to close yet another difficult year, marked by a deepening feud with the US and the seemingly interminable coronavirus pandemic . Faced with the twin challenges of a slowing economy and a new Cold War brewing on its doorstep, China has shown both resilience and defiance as it tackles an increasingly hostile global environment. And leading this fightback has been its army of propagandists and Wolf Warrior diplomats, busy spinning an alternate narrative where China is defeating a Western plot to contain the rise of a popular, benevolent and peace-loving power. But beneath the triumphalist narrative about greater ideological and cultural self-confidence, and the inevitable decline of the West – as well as the nationalist fervour thus induced – there is deep dissatisfaction and an acute sense of crisis. Last week, an influential conservative figure caused a stir with his stark warning that China faced the risk of being fully isolated, and a rare call for a return to late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s moderate “ hide-and-bide ” diplomacy. Wang Xiaodong, a writer who won fame as a co-author of the 2009 ultranationalist bestseller Unhappy China , has claimed that the country’s top priority should be to avoid a full US-China decoupling at all costs, even if it meant suffering humiliation. He offered his rather cold-eyed analysis of China’s predicament on the heavily censored Chinese social media site Weibo, saying his evaluation was based on conversations with numerous government officials, economists and military officers. Billed as the standard bearer of Chinese nationalism by Baidu Baike, a Wikipedia-like site, Wang took particular aim at those who advocate triumphalism and proactive decoupling, warning that this would mislead the public, undermine the Communist Party’s governance and “cause endless harm”. If it comes down to a China bloc vs US bloc, who stands to gain the most? He also pointed out that it would be “extremely unrealistic” for China to catch up both economically and technologically if Washington went ahead with its knowledge and equipment decoupling drive. Although the US and others would pay a high price for decoupling with China, “it is an indisputable fact that China will have a greater price to pay”, Wang warned. One would have a deeper grasp of the situation by revisiting Deng’s grand strategy, which played a major role in stabilising China’s relations with the West in the decades after the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, he noted. Wang, who has over 2.5 million followers on Weibo, said Beijing might need to tone down its hawkish approach and even give in to pressure from the US administration, to avoid further isolation. While it was still possible for China to survive and develop out of its domestic market, “we will definitely have a hard time”, Wang said. “We must prevent the world from reaching a consensus with the US to drive China out of the international circle, and we must also prevent such a consensus within the US,” he advised. “Even if it means we have to pay a certain price, or even to endure humiliation [to achieve this goal].” Understandably, his Weibo post was not particularly well-received among China’s nationalist net users, with some even branding him a capitulationist. However, his is not a lone voice. Many officials and scholars actually share his views. If Beijing listens to such words of wisdom, there may still be some silver linings ahead despite the gathering storm of the US-China superpower rivalry.