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Americans once talked tough about Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. China tuned out that empty rhetoric and instead noted that we abandoned Iraq after the successful surge, are exhausted by Afghanistan, were humiliated by Syria’s Bashar Assad, and were seemingly paid back with Benghazi after removing Moammar Gadhafi in Libya. China is reassured that what America says and what America does are not quite the same things.

More importantly, the Chinese also appear to hate the Japanese in the same way the latter apparently despised the former in the 1930s. China resents Japan’s undeniable lack of contrition over the approximately 15 million Chinese killed by Japanese aggression in World War II. The Chinese also sense that Japan may be a has-been power, with an aging, shrinking population; energy woes; a sluggish, deflationary economy; and increasingly without its once-ubiquitous American patron at its side.

China accepts that the United Nations, like the old League of Nations, is useless in solving global tensions, and prefers that it is so.

Add everything up and China seems about as confident of the future as Japan once was in the 1930s. It is as eager to teach Japan a lesson, as Japan once did China.

America once again appears confused by these radical changes in the Pacific. That is, until someone in the region tries something stupid — once again.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.