When Admiral Timothy Keating, the head of America’s Pacific command, met a senior Chinese admiral in 2008, he heard a surprising offer. Keating reported that his unnamed counterpart had suggested drawing a line down the middle of the Pacific and added: “You guys can have the east part of the Pacific, Hawaii to the States. We’ll take the west part of the Pacific, from Hawaii to China.” It was a weak joke, perhaps, but one that touched on what is likely to be the most sensitive and important topic in international politics over the next 50 years. Will the US continue to be the dominant power in the Pacific and in east Asia – or will it be supplanted by China? And what role will be played by India, the country that many strategists assume will be the third superpower of the 21st century?
The public statements of American, Chinese and Indian political leaders – and even of the academic establishments in all three countries – tend to stress the necessity for great power co-operation in Asia and the Pacific. The economic and political benefits of working together are said to be too great to ignore. The dangers of allowing international rivalries to grow are too enormous to be contemplated.