By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
Watching the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Hawaii last week, I had a feeling we were entering a new phase of Asian geopolitics. For decades now, those summits have been occasions for Asian countries to worry about U.S. commitment to Asia. How strong is it? Who does Washington back? Will we stay engaged?
The Obama Administration has made clear that America is in Asia for good and that it might actually increase its presence in the region. But the real concerns are no longer about Washington but rather about Beijing.
Countries in Asia and around the world are worrying about China.
In 2010, as China asserted its sovereignty over disputed waters and islands in the South China Sea, it rattled neighbors from Japan to South Korea to Vietnam. As these countries watch China's military modernization, they worry more.
It's not just in Asia, of course. Take a look at Africa, where China's investments and activities are now becoming part of those countries' domestic politics. The recent elections in Zambia, for example, were won by a candidate who promised to take on the Chinese. By some accounts, the Chinese have virtual control over that country's economy. This is because Zambia is a huge copper exporter and Chinese state-owned companies are deeply involved in that business. And it is a sign of China's power that that candidate, who is now president, has had to make nice with the Chinese and threw a lunch for Chinese investors last week. This might explain it: Copper exports produce two-thirds of the government’s revenues.
The United States is also witnessing new levels of anxiety about Chinese business practices. The Republican frontrunner, Mitt Romney, made a stunningly tough statement about China recently:
"China is on almost every dimension cheating. We got to recognize that. They're manipulating their currency and by doing so they're holding down the price of Chinese goods and making sure their products are artificially low-priced. It's predatory pricing. It's killing jobs in America."
This is remarkable because it breaks with 40 years of Republican foreign policy. Since Nixon and Kissinger opened China to the world, the Republican strategy has been to engage China and not condemn it. That Mitt Romney is changing tells us that the popular mood towards China in the United States is now very hostile.
People keep saying that America needs a new China strategy. But I think if you see how many countries are wondering about Beijing, the truth is that China needs a new China strategy.
Beijing needs to recognize that it has become a world power, that its every move is now deeply analyzed, and that it is expected to play by the rules - indeed, it is expected to help maintain the rules.
Will it? That's one of the big questions of this new century.