For over a decade, American strategic thinking has focused on China's emergence as a great power in East Asia. Such thinking is passé. China already is East Asia's great power.
While America has struggled in Iraq this year, China has spent it on a diplomatic goodwill offensive in Asia. The result? In October, one day after President George W. Bush was booed in Australia's parliament, Chinese President Hu Jintao received a standing ovation from the same parliamentarians. China's emergence as Asia's dominant power, and the overall regional balance of power, are now matters that governments across the Pacific must reckon with carefully.
To be sure, the US remains Asia's power broker, as it has been since the end of WWII. But diplomacy regarding the Korean peninsula, in which all roads lead to Beijing, has opened the door to China as the new "go-to" guy. Indeed, the six-party meetings in Beijing earlier this year to discuss North Korea's nuclear challenge confirmed China's emerging great power status, which is also reflected in its increasingly active--and effective--Asian diplomacy.
This includes even Japan, China's traditional rival. This past May, Chinese President Hu Jintao met with Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in St. Petersburg, Russia. Hu's move lifted bilateral relations out of the deep freeze, where China's previous leadership had consigned them following Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where the spirits of Japan's war dead, including Class A war criminals, are enshrined.