Noah posts only rarely, but it's worth the wait. Here's an excerpt:
2. China. The United States has a massive interest in integrating China into an international system, in enabling China to emerge as a great power without feeling the need to become a "revisionist" power. We failed in this regard with Japan in the 1920s and 1930s, with consequences that are well-known. If we fail with China, the consequences could be considerably worse. The Chinese leadership has for some time been consciously stoking Han nationalism as a way of building support for a regime that no longer espouses socialism in any meaningful sense of the word, and that has been tainted by massive corruption. We have to maneuver carefully between the Scylla of making the regime feel threatened from without and the Charybdis of making the regime feel like there's a power vacuum for it to occupy. Right now, I fear our foreign policy is achieving the worst of both worlds: making China worried about our intentions and unimpressed with our abilities. War with Iran would substantially increase Chinese perceptions of America as a threat. If the war achieved success levels similar to our Iraqi adventure, it would also deepen their contempt for our abilities.
Moreover, precipitate American action in Iran would lead to a reassessment in a variety of minor Asian capitals as to the relative dangers of American or Chinese patronage. Who would want to be the Turkey of East Asia when America decides to target North Korea, or Burma, or some other state? That's going to be a question asked in Bangkok and Seoul and Jakarta and Manila, and China is poised to reap the benefit any time the answer is, "not us!" [More]
A reader replies:
If I were Chinese, with one of those famously hefty North Asian IQs, I think I would reach exactly the opposite of Gideon's conclusions from the Iraq war. I think I would notice that 1) the high tech American military can slice like butter through much larger formations of more primitive militaries, but 2) America is not very competent at transforming non-Western societies into democracies and 3) America is far too gentle to put down violent resistance of even a tiny number of rebels and 4) the American people have no stomach for occupying a country against the resistance of even a small minority of its people.
Now, 1) means that if China is thinking of any aggressive moves, they could be in for some nasty surprises, and 3, 4, and 5 mean that there is no chance, zip, nada, phi, the null set, of America ever trying to invade or occupy even a sliver of so massive a country as China.
All of which is, I think, what we want them to understand.
But then I am not Chinese.