Hubris will do it every time.
The Chinese have just made a serious strategic blunder.
They dropped the mask and showed their scowling face to Asia, exposing how the Middle Kingdom intends to deal with smaller powers, now that she is the largest military and economic force in Asia and second largest on earth.
A fortnight ago, a Chinese trawler rammed a Japanese patrol boat in the Senkaku Islands, administered by Japan but also claimed by China. Tokyo released the ship and crew, but held the captain.
His immediate return was demanded by Beijing.
Japan refused. China instantly escalated the minor incident into a major confrontation, threatening a cut off of Japan's supply of "rare-earth" materials, essential to the production of missiles, batteries and computers.
Through predatory trading, China had killed its U.S. competitor in rare-earth materials, establishing almost a global monopoly.
The world depends on China.
Japan capitulated and released the captain.
Now Beijing has decided to rub Japan's nose in her humiliation by demanding a full apology and compensation.
Suddenly, the world sees, no longer as through a glass darkly, the China that has emerged from a quarter century of American indulgence, patronage and tutelage since Tiananmen Square.
The Chinese tiger is all grown up, and it's not cuddly anymore.
And with Beijing's threat to use its monopoly of rare-earth materials to bend nations to its will, how does the Milton Friedmanite free-trade ideology of the Republican Party, which fed Beijing $2 trillion in trade surpluses at America's expense over two decades, look now?
How do all those lockstep Republican votes for Most Favored Nation status for Beijing, ushering her into the World Trade Organization and looking the other way as China dumped into our markets, thieved our technology and carted off our factories look today?
The self-sufficient Republic that could stand alone in the world is more dependent than Japan on China for rare-earth elements vital to our industries, for the necessities of our daily life, and for the loans to finance our massive trade and budget deficits.
How does the interdependence of nations in a global economy look now, compared to the independence American patriots from Alexander Hamilton to Calvin Coolidge guaranteed to us, that enabled us to win World War II in Europe and the Pacific in less than four years?
Yet China's bullying of Japan is beneficial, for it may wake us up to the world as it is, as it has been, and ever shall be.
China now claims all the Paracel and Spratly islands in the South China Sea, though Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei border that sea. To reinforce her claim, a Chinese fighter jet crashed a U.S EP-3 surveillance plane 80 miles off Hainan Island in 2001. Not until Secretary of State Colin Powell apologized twice did China agree to release the American crew.
China's claim to the Senkakus (the Diaoyu Islands to the Chinese) was emphasized last week. While these are largely volcanic rocks rather than habitable islands, ownership would give a nation a powerful claim to all the oil, gas and minerals in the East China Sea.
China has repeatedly warned the United States to keep its warships, especially carriers, out of the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait. On the mainland opposite, Beijing has planted 1,000 missiles to convince Taipei of the futility and cost of declaring independence.
When the U.S. Navy launched exercises with South Korea after the sinking of South Korea's warship Cheonan by the North, China threatened the United States should it move the 97,000-ton carrier George Washington into the Yellow Sea between Korea and China. The carrier stayed out of the Yellow Sea and remained east of the Korean Peninsula.
In addition to her claims to sovereignty over all the seas off her southern and eastern coasts, China occupies a large tract of Indian land in the Aksai Chin area of India's northwest. Thousands of square miles were seized by Beijing in the 1962 war with New Delhi—and annexed.
In 1969, China and the Soviet Union battled on the Amur and Ussuri rivers over lands Czar Alexander I seized at the end of that bloodiest war of the 19th century, the Chinese civil war known as the Taiping Rebellion. Leonid Brezhnev reportedly sounded out the Nixon White House on U.S. reaction to Soviet use of atomic weapons to effect the nuclear castration of Mao's China.
China's claims to her lost lands in Siberia and the Russian Far East have not been forgotten in Beijing, and remain on Chinese maps.
How should America respond?
As none of these territorial disputes involves our vital interests, we should stay out and let free Asia get a good close look at the new China.
Then explore the depths of our own dependency on this bellicose Beijing and determine how to restore our economic independence.
Ending the trade deficit with China now becomes a matter of national security.
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Patrick J. Buchanan needs no introduction to VDARE.COM readers; his book State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America, can be ordered from Amazon.com. His latest book is Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World, reviewed here by Paul Craig Roberts.