There is no denying that China has acquired substantial global power and influence in recent decades. Even if this is “peak China,” as some suggest, it is already East Asia’s economic hegemon and, were it not for the U.S., would likely become the region’s political and military hegemon as well (though perhaps not without a conflict with Japan). Left to itself, a modernizing China could one day dominate its neighbors much as a unified, modernizing Germany once dominated Europe and a modernizing Japan once dominated China and the rest of East Asia. Those powers also believed that “time and momentum” were on their side, and in many respects they were right.
Yet those examples should give Chinese leaders pause, for both Japan and Germany, while accomplishing amazing feats of rapid expansion for brief periods of time, ultimately failed in their ambitions for regional hegemony. They underestimated both the actual and potential power of the U.S. They failed to understand that the emergence of the U.S. as a great power at the beginning of the 20th century had so transformed international circumstances that longstanding ambitions of regional hegemony were no longer achievable (emphasis added).