The U.S. insists it takes no position in the ongoing disputes, but Washington has clashed with China over the former's right to collect intelligence within China's 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone. It would only take one drunk ship captain or one over-aggressive aircraft pilot to create an incident and set the stage for conflict.
Goldstein performs two critical tasks in his new book, Meeting China Halfway: How to Defuse the Emerging U.S.-China Rivalry (Georgetown University Press). First, he acknowledges the legitimacy of the PRC's desire for a greater international role. Second, he offers a strategy of cooperation for the two nations, which includes recognizing natural but much-reviled "spheres of influence."
The tragic killing of the two hostages reinforced domestic concerns over Japanese rearmament. If they want to reinforce their (recent) pacifist heritage, so be it. But they should not then expect Washington to protect them. Serious countries defend themselves. They don't turn their futures over to other nations to save a little money.