As every kid in the school playground knows, you've got to watch yourself when some of the big boys start throwing their weight about. There are times when it's handy to have a few friends on your side. It's a matter of safety in numbers, should you ever be in a tight corner.
It's also a lesson and truism of history. The strong all too often pick on the weak if they can get away with it. Such thoughts must be flashing through Boris Johnson's inner sanctum these recent days. Particularly when they observe a certain Liu Xiaoming on television.
Mr Liu is China's ambassador to London. He is a suave, persuasive, and assured spokesperson, for a country with an official population of 1,439,661,560 people, and rising. It's a figure almost beyond the understanding of most people on this side of the world. How is it possible to govern such a stratospheric sized society?
The ambassador speaks with the calm authority of somebody representing an economic superpower on the march. The 19th century may have been dominated by Britain, and the century following by the United States. But China is now centre stage at the top table - determined to shape world events in its own interests.
Mr Liu, having done post-graduate studies in the US, has an excellent command of English. He is adept at batting away some of the glaring human rights abuses blighting the lives of many Chinese citizens. He is equally forceful on China getting its way in the former British colony of Hong Kong.
But sometimes when the diplomatic mask slips, there is a hint of steel in his response. The decision by the British to scupper plans for China's Huawei conglomerate to be a part of it's mobile network clearly incensed the Chinese authorities and their ambassador. There were reports of American pressure to call off the deal. But Downing Street was also fearful of Big Brother-style spying at the very heart of its government and communications systems.
The ambassador was not impressed at this 11th-hour pulling of the plug. There could be hell to pay, was the essence of his response. He made it clear that China can hit the UK where it hurts - by clamping down on trade between the two countries.
That's a shock for Downing Street Brexiteers. China was supposed to provide vast untapped markets for British exporters no longer shackled by the pesky EU.
Meanwhile, it seems the Russians are up to their old James Bond-style tactics; they may have hacked the British Covid vaccination programme. And it's alleged Moscow-spawned dirty tricks were at work in the general election which saw Boris Johnson come to power. Russian skulduggery was also a feature of the divisive Brexit campaign, according to some experts.
With America constrained by Trump isolationism, the world's biggest economies do not provide much solace for a post-Brexit world when viewed from Downing Street. To be sure, trade deals with the likes of Liechtenstein, Chile, Georgia, Kosovo, Lebanon, and the Pacific Islands are in the bag. But the amounts involved can hardly be classed as mouthwatering.
Covid continues to dominate the headlines, but Brexit talks also ramped up a gear this week. Realists say there surely must be a EU-UK deal agreed down the line. But right now the prognosis on all sides is doom and gloom.
Covid-19 on almost every level has made the wider world a more uncertain place. Economies across the globe are struggling. Doing business of almost any kind has become very difficult. Nobody could have predicted the shutters would come down in so many places. For the Johnson government, there are mighty economic challenges ahead. In contrast, the EU, whatever its critics may say, this week came out with a multi-billion euro mutual assistance package. It was a reminder that during bleak times there's self-protection in being part of a gang.
Johnson is finding out, as every isolated kid in the playground learns to their cost, that there's safety in numbers when big boys start pushing their weight around. However, in a post-Brexit, Covid-dominated world, he and his acolytes are ploughing an increasingly solitary pathway. But was that not their heart's desire?