This is how the Chinese challenge presents itself. It is not a crude attempt to corner the world's energy supplies but rather a quiet effort to establish itself as the dominant player in Asia. China pursues this strategy not by making noisy threats, but by making itself crucial to other countries in the region. Consider the turnaround in Indonesia. Ten years ago, when Indonesian officials spoke of their security concerns, China was usually on top of the list. Today, they speak of China only as a partner.This is why America's paranoia over China is so misplaced. While the US may see China as a threat, increasingly they're the only ones who see it that way. America's worries increasingly look less like a hegemon trying to maintain stability, and more like a petulant child who doesn't want to play with equals.
China's growth strategy has been different from that of Japan. When Japan rose to power, it did so in a predatory fashion, pushing its products and investments in other countries but keeping its own market closed. China has done the opposite, opening itself up to foreign trade and investment. The result is that growth in countries from Brazil to Australia increasingly depends on the Chinese market. China is making itself indispensable to the world. Even India, which is wary of China's rise and is a counterweight to it, will not ignore this reality. In three years its largest trading partner will be China, displacing the United States of America.
And speaking of petulance, Zakaria's latest column is an excellent list of how America's oil dependence is a foreign policy problem:
I leave it to economists to sort out what expensive oil does to America's growth and inflation prospects. What is less often noticed is how crippling this situation is for American foreign policy. "Everything we're trying to do in the world is made much more difficult in the current environment of rising oil prices,"...Zakaria then goes on to list trouble spots around the globe, such as the Middle East, Russia, Venezuela, etc. The problem is that Zakaria's argument seems to rely heavily on the assumption that the only people living in the problem countries are the people we don't like. It's an assumption that the current war in Iraq relied on heavily - "We're gonna go get Saddam!" Apparently, the other 26 million Iraqis are invincible to cluster bombs.
Zakaria's argument is that by getting off of oil, the US would stop spending money in places that we don't like. Fine, so far as it goes. But let's not forget that this would also impoverish a number of countries that are just starting to get their economies on a decent footing - Russia being just one of them. The Russian people already blame the US for their problems. Do we want to make it worse?
In reality, I don't think the US can get "off" of oil, in the sense that greenbacks would stop flowing to Riyadh and Tehran. So long as there's oil in the ground, we're going to want it (if nothing else, it makes an excellent chemical feedstock.) What we can do is limit our vulnerability to oil disruptions. Getting our transportion and farm sectors off of oil would enormously simplify the equation. Not only would it reduce oil consumption in the US by 80% (in my magical scenario) but when demand for oil inevitably picked up again after the price collapse, the US's two most energy-vulnerable sectors would be relatively safe. The US could then proceed to wage war on brown people across the globe with impunity.