Perhaps there is another element in David Shambaugh’s accurate analysis (https://www.foreignaffairs.
The fact that China recognizes the power of soft power it subjects itself to its logic — buying editorials doesn’t pay as much as NOT arresting lawyers accused of challenging the existing power in their trials.
Being the Chinese practical people they are bound to recognize this element and change their ways. If they don’t they will be simply victim of their own bad soft power. In either case, are we on top … or not?
Perhaps not so much. If China (with or without a Communist party) will have good soft power then are we in the West ready to accommodate it?
The risks are: we accommodate, we are finished; we don’t accommodate we are victim of our bad behavior (bad soft power)
Then what is our way out, if we want to keep our power? Push China in the bad corner (saying they are bad despite the improvements or despite their being being already good).
If this is the future predicament, then what is the situation now really (and we come form a culture where reality/truth is overwhelmed by perception)?
Some conservatives in China may claim the situation is now actually good, and it is only the bad westerners who claim it is bad, and this perception can be turned by buying enough editorials … thus their present drive to gain foreign positive coverage.
Perhaps what is missing here is an accurate perception of decision making mechanisms and logic in China, and what is the logic of perception and soft power in the world out of China.