In late-July, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gently put China on notice regarding its increasingly aggressive claims over the near-entirety of the South China Sea by proposing a formal international legal process to resolve territorial disputes there. Naturally, the Chinese were not pleased, but the proposal was a great move by the Obama administration. Every step that China takes to build up its military power naturally triggers a strong balancing desire throughout the rest of Asia. But with none of those far-smaller economies looking to anger "rising China," somebody needs to give voice to those fears and create vehicles for organizing the sought-after balancing.
That somebody can only be the United States.
Just like China's embrace of globalization gave that historical phenomenon its critical mass, America's continuing embrace of Asia gives that region its critical mass on future integration. China so outweighs the rest of the region that its definition of regional integration still retains its communist mindset -- as in, "What's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable." Beijing confuses its economic bulk with political legitimacy, which it lacks as a single-party state in a region increasingly moving beyond such limited political expression. America's quite-reasonable insistence that the region's democracies continue overtly networking with one another does indeed amount to a containment strategy of sorts: It says that democracies will pursue collective bargaining with authoritarian states so long as the latter lack internal constraints on their own greed.