Today, Asia once again faces a historical challenge. It is standing at the crossroads between progress and retrogression. Why and how have we come this far? Partly, this is accounted for by the new and divergent outlook for the regional order -- a rising China, a resurgent Japan, strong Russia, anachronistic North Korea obsessed with the pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the United States who is rebalancing to Asia. It looks like the "Pandora's Box" is being opened, with all sorts of problems -- both old and new -- popping up, complicating the already very complex situation. Any of these developments, if mishandled or left unchecked, could escalate into a much more serious situation with far reaching consequences for the region.
Chairman Mao's "little red book" is no longer a fashion accessory in Beijing, but China's leaders seem to be drawing inspiration from one of its aphorisms: "There is great disorder under the Heavens and the situation is excellent." Judging by the calculatedly risky steps they have taken -- like moving a gigantic drilling rig deep into Vietnam's Exclusive Economic Zone -- China seems to have concluded that, with the West preoccupied with Ukraine, Syria and Iraq, Southeast Asia divided over how to respond to its aggressive moves, and with Japan and the U.S. unsure as to how respond to North Korea's saber rattling, the situation is indeed excellent.