The president of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino, became the second of two close American allies (after Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe) to shake hands with President Xi Jinping of China this week. Xi and Aquino shared promises to constructively manage tensions in the South China Sea, a promising step forward after several years of maritime incursions into territory both countries claim as their own.
Now that Xi and Abe have had their icy handshake, China and Japan need to move forward. Hotlines are necessary, but so is continued leadership: for President Xi, to ensure that anti-Japanese nationalism does not dictate policy towards Tokyo; for Prime Minister Abe, to tamp down tendencies towards historical revisionism.
Beijing's sparring with Abe has produced underwhelming results. An international public relations blitz following Abe's Yasukuni trip -- to remind the world of Japan's past aggression and warn of resurgent militarism -- resulted not in a chorus of condemnation of Tokyo but in wariness of excessive Chinese rhetoric. Nor did harsh criticism of Abe undermine his standing at home.
If China becomes aggressive, Asian countries like India and Australia -- which are already disturbed by China's assertiveness in the South China Sea -- will join Japan in the effort to offset China's power. But, as things stand, a strategy of containment would be a mistake. After all, the best way to engender enmity is to treat China as an enemy. A more effective approach, spearheaded by the U.S. and Japan, would focus on integration, with a hedge against uncertainty. American and Japanese leaders must shape the regional environment in such a way that China has incentives to act responsibly, including by maintaining strong defense capabilities.
It's taken a long time for Germany and Japan to recover from the Second World War. After enduring the indignity of military occupation, they regained sovereignty only by guaranteeing against future threats to peace. Germany's new constitution only authorized military force in self-defense or in collaboration with collective security agreements. Japan's Article Nine went further, "forever renounc[ing] ... the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes." But this post-war settlement is unraveling before our eyes. The Obama administration must learn to distinguish the urgent from the truly fundamental. Unless it rethinks our traditional post-war partnerships, it risks an authoritarian Japan and a profoundly alienated Germany -- destroying one of the greatest legacies of the twentieth century.