In all this there is one clear theme. America isn't containing China. China is containing itself. As China's economy grows and its military develops new capacities, it is looking for ways to turn that potential power into actual power over events. In the past, China has tried to attract its neighbors into its orbit with sweeteners like trade deals and aid.
But these measures apparently strike a new generation of Chinese policy makers as unsatisfactory. China is too great a power to play nice, they think. So they assert their territorial claims more and more boldly, and blow up disputes with Japan out of all proportion.
Lessons for American Power
These developments in Asia illustrate an important truth about America's world role: the foundations supporting our power are much stronger than many people here and abroad understand.
We have had a decade of hand-wringing about American power. First, 9/11 was seen by some as a deadly blow against the citadel of American strength and the collapse of the World Trade Towers was seen as the start of the fall of America's economic and political domination. Then the unpopularity of the Bush foreign policy was alienating our friends. In the Arab world in particular, we were so hated that not even friendly governments could continue to work with us. Then we had lost the war in Iraq, and leading foreign policy analysts and politicians (most of whom had endorsed the war at the beginning) called for ignominious retreat as the best and indeed the only possible strategy. After that came the stock market crash and the financial meltdowns of 2008, and the "Anglo-Saxon" model of cutthroat capitalism was said to have decisively failed. After that came the rise of China, the hot new superpower in the east that owned our debt and therefore owned us — and that was going to sweep all Asia into a new economic and political bloc that would leave us in the cold.
This was and is all a bunch of hooey. Americans do make mistakes in our foreign policy and these can be costly both for us and for other people, but American power is more durable than it sometimes appear. American power is not eternal, and the world political order is not unchanging, but strong and deep forces in world affairs have brought the United States to its present position of influence and power; those forces will not disappear overnight. Rome wasn't burned in a day.
The latest round of events in Asia provides a textbook case of just how strong the foundations on which American power rests in Asia really are. The more China rises, the more Asian countries rally to the American side. [snip]