There is no "China threat," not because China is a benign giant but because it is too weak to challenge the balance of power. China can damage U.S. interests, but it does not require containment. The most striking aspect of Chinese foreign policy is its effort to promote stability. Indeed, China is easier to deal with today than ever before. The United States needs a policy to contend with China's ability to destabilize Asia, not a policy to deal with a future hegemon. China is a revisionist power, but for the foreseeable future it will seek to maintain the status quo-and so should the United States.
As economic crisis plunges Asia into chaos, old wounds may reopen. The continent still fears Japan, thanks to its World War II brutalities. By refusing to apologize, Tokyo only makes matters worse. A power vacuum results: an unrepentant Japan will never be allowed to lead a suspicious Asia. Instead, flash points may ignite, and East Asia and even America could be dragged into a war. To defuse tensions, America must push its ally to show remorse and Japan must pay its World War II debts. In turn, China and Korea -- age-old enemies of Japan -- must learn to look forward, not back.
The Defense Department's new report on East Asia reads as if the Cold War is ongoing. For Japan, the report signals U.S. acceptance of its ruinous trade deficits. For other Asian nations, it signals the hollowness of American superpower pretensions. The report masks the failure of the Clinton administration's trade policy. By insisting Japan remain a U.S. protectorate, Washington encourages Tokyo's reactionaries. The real threat to Asian security is not China but U.S. distrust of Japan as a true ally. Cold War military power is irrelevant to the economic challenges posed by East Asia's dynamism. Someone should tell the Pentagon.