What 2010 gave us was some open jostling by the rising powers in this region to identify their “spheres of influence.” But this jostling is merely a symptom of much larger tensions.
Long a weak naval nation, China has clearly indicated that it is fed up with American efforts to “contain” Chinese authority in the Pacific.
Beijing is now expanding its maritime forces far offshore to try to force the big U.S. warships out of much of the Western Pacific.
India, meanwhile, nervous about China’s long-term ambitions, increasingly frets about the growing presence of Chinese naval vessels and port facilities in the Indian Ocean, an area New Delhi feels belongs in its security zone.
As a result, India is now expanding its naval plans to include three new aircraft carriers and several nuclear-powered stealth submarines.
But most nervous of all is Japan, which has in its orbit both erratic North Korea and an expanding China to worry about.
An indication of Japan’s anxiety is its remarkable new national defence plan, which was leaked in December by Japanese media.
The plan essentially reverses decades of passive Japanese planning to defend its northern islands against Russia and, instead, focuses on confronting threats from North Korea and especially China.
In coming years, Japan will deploy new submarines, destroyers and top-notch F-22 fighter planes to cover the sea approaches off its southern islands, including Okinawa, an area now the subject of a bitter Sino-Japanese diplomatic clash over sea rights.
Even more startling, Japan now seems ready to drop its usual quasi-isolationist stance in order to enter into close naval exercises with the U.S., South Korea, Australia and India.
Some naval planners expect this will evolve into the core of a new maritime defence alliance.