The rise of China — and of Asia — will, over the next decades, bring about a substantial reordering of the international system. The center of gravity of world affairs is shifting from the Atlantic, where it was lodged for the past three centuries, to the Pacific. The most rapidly developing countries are in Asia, with a growing means to vindicate their perception of the national interest.
It is unwise to substitute China for the Soviet Union in our thinking and to apply to it the policy of military containment of the Cold War.
The strategic equation in Asia is altogether different. U.S. policy in Asia must not mesmerize itself with the Chinese military buildup. There is no doubt that China is increasing its military forces, which were neglected during the first phase of its economic reform. But even at its highest estimate, the Chinese military budget is less than 20 percent of America’s; it is barely, if at all, ahead of that of Japan and, of course, much less than the combined military budgets of Japan, India and Russia, all bordering China — not to speak of Taiwan’s military modernization supported by American decisions made in 2001. Russia and India possess nuclear weapons. In a crisis threatening its survival, Japan could quickly acquire them and might do so formally if the North Korean nuclear problem is not solved. When China affirms its cooperative intentions and denies a military challenge, it expresses less a preference than the strategic realities. The challenge China poses for the medium-term future will, in all likelihood, be political and economic, not military.