The people are the ones who support the regime, so if the general population suffers, their support for that regime can lessen. It's the same as with open war, when two countries fight it's not a fight between two militaries while the civilians just pretend like nothing happens. You fight against every man and woman who go to work and produce wealth that feeds and supplies the army, you fight against their support for the government policy to continue the fight. If anything, the west is too shortsighted in their dealings with China. We have shipped there our technology and our manufacturing, because it was cheap to do so and that looks amazing in quarterly reports. China looks at it from a long term perspective, what will happen in decades or even centuries. Now China is already making claims to the territories of all their neighbors and are in the process of colonization of Africa, not to mention extermination of minorities. Trying to appease them does nothing to stop or even slow them down. It must really be a firm stand against the authoritative regime, with sanctions as the least of the measures. West still leads in tech which China still needs and their production is still consumed largely by wealthy citizens of the western world. Remove both of these and their lifestyle will have to change rather dramatically. BTW, Russia is exactly the same. Since 90s they have fought in several wars, often for land and they got some every time.