IN OTHER WORDS: China policy

President Bush probably didn’t mention the word “containment” when he visited China. But his hosts could surely be excused for wondering whether his administration is now trying to revive that Cold War anti-Soviet strategy and apply it to the very different circumstances of today’s complex relationship between US and Beijing.

China’s headlong economic advance presents real challenges. But China poses no obvious military threat to the US. Yet for the past few months, the Bush administration has been going out of its way to build up its military ties with countries surrounding China — India and Japan. It has pressed ahead with an ill-advised initiative to share civilian nuclear technology with India, despite that country’s refusal to abide by the NPT. And it has actively encouraged Japanese government to shed post-war restraints on its military.

The risk is that this neo-containment policy could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading China to start throwing its own military and economic weight around to break out of the containment trap. Asia’s great challenge at the start of the 21st century is to find ways to adjust to an economically stronger China without falling into the destructive military rivalries of the past. That should be the central concern the US, and for Japan and India as well.