There's so much discussion out there about China's rise, its territorial quarrels with neighbours and the risk (some would say inevitability) of eventual conflict between the great powers that we rarely step back to think outside the terms of this power struggle. What if China just decided not to compete with its regional neighbours and the US?

Breaking Defense reports on a recent speech by strategist Edward Luttwak (video above):

Beijing has stumbled into a strategy of offending most of its neighbors at once: Japan, India, Vietnam (which Japan and India are now helping build a submarine fleet), the Philippines – “It’s hard to find a quarrel with the Philippines,” he said, “you have to make a real effort” – and even South Korea. “The least necessary Chinese quarrel is with the Republic of Korea,” he sighed, “the only country I saw entering voluntarily the Chinese orbit, becoming voluntarily a Chinese client, until China decided to kick them in the shins over a submerged rock.”

“You’re supposed to quarrel with people one at a time – but if you’re getting so rich so fast, you shouldn’t quarrel at all,” said Luttwak. In China today, however, we see “the triumph of emotion. [The desire to] humiliate foreigners, beat foreigners, overcomes the rational mind that said, ‘do nothing, just wait.’” The best strategy for a rapidly growing country is to reassure its neighbors, be patient, and to keep getting stronger until people give you what you want without a fight.

That’s what Germany should have done circa 1900, instead of heading down the path of provocation to World War I. Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany is a favorite analogy of scholars (alarmists invoke Hitler’s Germany instead) because its combination of rapidly growing power and deeply rooted insecurity – like China’s the result of generations of foreign invasion and occupation – made it a country with a chip on its shoulder. But the lesson isn’t that World War I was inevitable: It’s that it wasn’t.

“All they had to do was have no army and no navy and they’d become the kings of Europe” by their economic influence, “which is exactly what is happening now,” said Luttwak.