Wobbly nationalistic middle classes are not to be underestimated as political forces. They tend to have a stronger sense of their own importance than lower social classes, which explains why the spectacular global growth in incomes of the bottom 50 percent seems to have so little direct political valence, however huge it is in terms of how well humanity lives. Middle classes in more authoritarian states like China might indeed make even stronger demands, as a class, than in democracies, since their ascendance under "state capitalism" could lead to greater expectations of the state. One can imagine income inequality becoming a genuinely strategic question.
However neatly wrapped, self-interest is the underlying theme of foreign policy. India will have to tread with extreme caution on this path of a joint strategic vision for the Asia-Pacific. The U.S. will only walk on this path up to a point. Australia and Japan have not exhibited consistency in their China policy.
The US and China are engaged in a dance of global partnership in which the two tightly embrace or wriggle warily in tandem at a distance, depending on the background music. At the same time, where there is overlap in the perceived spheres of influence, the music stops and the two countries argue over who calls the tune.
When the history of the early part of the 21st century is written, one of the great heroes of the People's Republic of China might turn out to be an anonymous map-maker from the late 1940s whose work is helping to drive increasingly dangerous confrontations today between China and its neighbors across the South China Sea.