Remember the old conventional wisdom about China? The one that told us that China would become a great power thanks in part to a charm offensive that would prevent offshore balancing against it, while the United States antagonized and overextended itself into irrelevance?
Well, that was wrong:
China has successfully convinced its neighbors that it is a legitimate and indispensable rising power in Asia, and that this is on balance a good thing. China was welcomed as a founding member of the ASEAN Regional Forum — the first region-wide multilateral discussion of security issues in Asia — in 1994, and this year joined with neighboring countries in launching a multilateral currency swap arrangement with a foreign exchange reserve pool worth $120 billion. But whether those countries want a dominant China is another matter entirely. The era of picking low-hanging diplomatic fruit is almost over. Beijing’s neighbors are beginning to look for ways to hedge against China’s rise and even help restrain Beijing’s strategic options — and that means that they’re looking at the United States’ presence in the region with new eyes.
Of course, China fails to help its case, with its constant recent efforts to insult and offend other countries, the article’s statement that China is better aware of its limitations than is the United States notwithstanding. To be sure, any implication that the United States doesn’t fully appreciate that it holds the high cards in any power competition with China is worrisome; perhaps at some point, before its first term is over, the Obama Administration would like to convince us that it has finally gotten itself a credible and workable China policy.