A recent Pew Research Poll made clear that publics in East Asia are increasingly uneasy about the destabilizing effects of China’s maritime assertiveness. Among the eight countries surveyed—including China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam—majorities in each country said they were concerned that territorial disputes between China and its neighboring countries could lead to a military conflict.
Rather than “China threat theory,” an oft-used phrase in Beijing to deride anxieties about China’s rise, it appears we’re now seeing “China threat reality.”
Though difficult to poll with similar fidelity, there is little question that governments in the region are at least as concerned as their publics and have already begun taking measures to prepare for, and if necessary defend against, further Chinese attempts at economic, military and diplomatic coercion.
Strategies for responding to Chinese assertiveness certainly differ from capital to capital, but all can be characterized as portfolio strategies that simultaneously pursue multiple avenues to deal with a country that has overwhelming advantages in size and wealth.