From Project Syndicate China's leaders seem to believe that the 2008 economic crisis and the high costs of two foreign wars have left the U.S. in no position to exercise international leadership. That may explain China's recent foreign policy assertiveness, particularly in its dispute with Japan over control of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which could be intended to probe the strength of the U.S.-Japan alliance. Testing U.S. power in this way could prove to be a dangerous miscalculation.
So far, U.S. and East Asian leaders have done little beyond offering rhetorical support for the creation of multilateral security institutions. With the exception of the almost defunct six-party talks aimed at eliminating the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, Asia's powers refuse to be constrained by international rules or norms.
Instead, East Asia's leaders resort to realpolitik. Unfortunately, unlike Europe's 19th century political masterminds -- figures like Talleyrand, Metternich, Bismarck, and Disraeli -- who crafted durable international alliances, Asia lacks leaders willing and able to look beyond their narrow national interests.