SHANGHAI -- A Chinese military expert is explaining to a conference here what he sees as the benign inevitability of Beijing's rising power in the Pacific. "You should trust China," he says cheerily. "In 10 years, we will be much stronger, and you will feel safer."
This Chinese prediction did not appear to reassure most of the several dozen European and American experts gathered for discussions last weekend. Instead, there was a consensus, even among most of the Chinese participants, that Beijing's growing military power has worried its neighbors and led to friction with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam over disputed islands and maritime rights.
"You think we are a bully," conceded the Chinese military expert. "We think we are a victim." But nobody in the room disagreed about the reality that tensions in the Pacific are rising -- and that China and its neighbors cannot seem to find a way out. Which leaves the United States awkwardly in between, trying to support traditional allies such as Japan, without encouraging them to take reckless moves.
It is a sign of the times that delegates here talked openly about the danger of war in the Pacific. That's a big change from the tone of similar gatherings just a few years ago, when Chinese officials often tried to reassure foreign experts that a rising China wasn't on a collision course with the U.S. or regional powers. Now, in the East and South China seas, the collision seems all too possible.