Anne Applebaum, peering into the foreign policy crystal ball, makes this observation about the relationship between China and the U.S.:
There is something reassuring about the regularity with which China always returns to the center of international attention, decade after decade—as well as the regularity with which we are always distracted by something else.
Reassuring? I would say that continued American distraction - with Islamic terrorism, for example, as Applebaum mentions - is instead disconcerting. The trend of American distraction should be doubly disconcerting - it represents a compounding of the problem of failing to recognize and acknowledge a major rising competitor.
She's right that Chinese authoritarianism probably won't die off in the coming decade - it should have faded some time ago according to many seemingly relevant models of economic openness influencing political freedom. And it hasn't. Unlike Islamic terrorism, which Applebaum rightly calls a "major nuisance" at this point, China remains near the geopolitical center of gravity, a potential true threat to the U.S. despite all the economic interconnectedness by dint of its sheer population and potential military-industrial capacity.
George W. Bush failed to engage seriously with Chinese ascendancy after 911. Thus far, President Obama, too, has neglected China largely due to a number of distractions, including the health care canard that he himself created. There is certainly room for cooperative endeavor with the Chinese government on certain issues of sharing national interests. But U.S. leaders, in the signaling game, need to show themselves as something other than severely distracted figureheads as we move forward.