There is a parallel universe in which bureaucrats give orders and nations follow them, in which the alphabet soup of international agencies direct flows of trade and investment and regulate the use of technology. This is the “rules-based international order,” a globalized projection of the national administrative state. The trouble is that the power to tax, fine, or confiscate assets belongs not to international bureaucracies but to national governments. National power—economic or military—determines the outcome of global contention, not the board games devised by professors of international relations or the bureaucrats who play them or the journalists who write about them.

Bethany Allen, who reports on China for Axios, lives in that parallel universe. Her new book, Beijing Rules: How China Weaponized Its Economy to Confront the World, has no mention of China’s weaponry and very little about its economy. Allen’s main concern is China’s misdeeds by way of propaganda, petty coercion, and influence peddling. She is outraged that China’s Foreign Ministry drew on the 60 million overseas Chinese to corner the market for face masks during the COVID epidemic; that a female Chinese spy “initiated sexual relationships with between ten and fifteen mayors in states across the country”; that China browbeats Hollywood into removing content that it deems

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