Over the past two weeks, all of Asia watched with alarm as China forced Japan to back down in a maritime dispute by downgrading diplomatic ties, and tolerating if not encouraging public street protest against Tokyo as well as halting shipments of critical industrial metals to Japan. The face-off symbolizes Beijing's new attitude: once officially committed to rising peacefully in cooperation with its neighbors, China now seems determined to show its neighbors—and the United States—that it has growing military and economic interests that other countries ignore at their peril.
China has reopened old wounds with India by publicly raising its claims to territory in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which triggered a troop buildup by both countries along the border. Beijing has proclaimed the South China Sea to be a “core national interest,” a term previously used for Taiwan and Tibet (among other places) to signal that Beijing will brook no outside criticism of its claims to a wide swath of the sea, which has strategic value as well as potential oil wealth. Increasingly, the Chinese Navy has harassed American and Japanese vessels sailing in Asian waters. And Beijing has largely stonewalled complaints by countries in mainland Southeast Asia that new Chinese dams on the upper portions of the Mekong River are diverting water and hurting the livelihood of downstream fishermen and farmers. China also has harshly condemned joint U.S.-South Korean naval exercises, and applied growing pressure on Southeast Asian nations to jettison even their informal relations with Taiwan, which once had extremely close ties to countries like Singapore and the Philippines.