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Beijing has played up its handling of Washington, especially after President Hu Jintao held a pomp-filled summit with Obama in Washington in January, and repeatedly invoked the leadership’s intention to build a constructive partnership.

Yu Wanli of Peking University’s School of International Studies said many Chinese would likely view Mr. Obama’s new posture as a betrayal of that professed partnership and that could narrow Beijing’s options, forcing a tougher response.

“Public opinion may put the Chinese government in an embarrassing situation,” said Mr. Yu, who specializes in U.S.-China relations.

A reliably nationalistic media that pander to the Chinese sense of patriotism and deep-seated suspicion of the U.S. already have sounded the alarm.

The Global Times, a tabloid owned by the Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper, hit hard upon the theme of besiegement. It quoted a People’s Liberation Army major general as saying that the expanded U.S. training and deployment base in Australia is one of a series of U.S. installations to “encircle China from the north to the south of the Asia-Pacific region.”

In a separate article titled “Six ways of countering the eastward movement of American strategy,” the Global Times alleged the U.S. is seeking to weaken China by nurturing hostile forces within the country while wrecking Beijing’s relations with its neighbors.

It suggested Beijing reduce its massive purchases of U.S. government debt — which have helped keep U.S. interest rates low — to get Washington to stop meddling in the South China Sea, where China is asserting claims to islands, reefs and atolls contested by five other governments.

“As long as we stick to our guns, time will be on our side,” it said.