There is tremendous fear in the U.S. that we will soon be eclipsed by China. That fear helps to explain myriad otherwise inexplicable phenomena such as the stunning success of Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” which suggests Chinese mothers have devised superior child-raising techniques soft American moms should emulate.

It is certainly legitimate to worry about China’s rise given how fast its economy is growing — along with its defense budget. But it is by no means inevitable that China will overtake us. There are still lots of obstacles in its path, ranging from chronic rural poverty to environmental degradation to — the biggest issue of all — the fundamental illegitimacy of its unelected government. Moreover, as China gets stronger, it also gets more assertive, and in the process alienates its neighbors, thereby driving them into our arms.

The latest evidence of this phenomenon is this Financial Times article: “Vietnam calls for U.S. aid in China spat.” Reporter Ben Bland reports from Hanoi that Vietnam — like China a communist state — is so alarmed by Chinese incursions in the South China Sea near its coast it is calling on the U.S. to help resolve the dispute. In other words, Vietnam sees the U.S. as a buffer against the threat of Chinese power. The same is true, to varying degrees, of almost all of China’s other neighbors, including India, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines, South Korea and Australia.

In that list is the makings of a potent alliance to hem in China and ensure that its rise really is “peaceful,” as its leaders claim it will be. It should not take too much skill on the part of American diplomats to manage this de facto alliance which is coming into being as a counterweight to the 3,000-pound panda.

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