How history is helping to rebalance Asia

The US, China and Japan are groping toward a new equilibrium in their relationship with each other and with other countries in East Asia. The adjustments underway are complex and psychologically wrenching. Profound interdependence among the US, China and Japan coexists with deep strategic distrust. China's rise has been disquieting to many in America and Japan because in China, capitalism flourishes without liberal democracy. This is somehow regarded as unnatural and illegitimate because it punctures the Western myth of universality. This is not merely an abstract intellectual consideration because ever since the end of the Cold War, the claim of the universality of certain political forms and values has been used to justify military interventions to change regimes in North Africa and the Middle East. That all these interventions have only resulted in greater instability has not forced any change of minds or rhetoric in any Western capitals.

This is a particularly delicate phase in China's development. Never before has a major country experienced such a far-reaching economic and social transformation affecting so many people in such a short period of time. But rapid change is destabilizing, and China's history has taught China's leaders to fear most those historical moments where external uncertainty coincides with internal restlessness. Under these challenging circumstances, the Chinese leadership can be forgiven for regarding American attitudes toward universality with deep suspicion, seeing it as an attempt to destabilize China and undermine Beijing's rule. At the very least it is an additional complication in their already complex relationship.

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