"History indicates that coalitions arise against hegemonic powers, or powers with hegemonic ("fullspectrum dominance" pretensions. Thus, given the fixed hegemonic ambitions of the US foreign policy elite, various combinations balancing the US (albeit declining) might be expected. China plus Japan, China plus Japan and Russia with the EU taking a pass, or whatever. On the other hand, there are those hoping for something like: India plus Japan (and Australia) with the US against China."
Dear Prof. Kiracofe: I think we have to be cautious in using historical analogies relating to coalition-building against hegemonic powers.
For example, the fastest growing power in the latter part of Pax Britannica was the United States not Imperial Germany. Obviously no one can predict the security alignment (by this I mean stable rather than short-term marriages of convenience such as the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact), but more recent historical example of Britain around the turn of the 20th century offer a strong possibility that geographical proxmity can drive the security dilemma of these states mentioned above.
As Paul Kennedy noted the Admiralty's longheld doctrine was that the Royal Navy must maintain superiority over the combination of the next two largest navies. As Britain's relative economic superiority waned vis-a-vis the United States and Germany, a gradual shift in foreign policy took place as the United States was no longer seen as a likely adversary. This possibly led to a hardening of "inflexible alliance formation" prior to the First World after an intense naval rivalry. Yet the proximity of the High Seas Fleet led to a shift in Britain's continental policy.
My reading of the current sentiment in Japan and Korea is the rising uneasiness over the rapid expansion of PRC's military capabilities. (I wouldn't speak for Vietnam but I would not be surprised if the same holds true there as well) China's terroritorial conflicts with India and the Soviet Union are the clear examples, but there are other rumblings that have reverberated even in South Korea. The Chinese have claimed Goguryeo as a sovereign "Chinese state" despite all evidence to the contrary. Most South Koreans have interpreted this as a precursor to a potential takeover of North Korea by the PLA if the Kim regime were to suddenly collapse. The Spratly Islands as well as many other maritime disputes would take a nasty turn if the PLAN were to achieve credible power projection capability.
There are plenty of reasons to suspect that revanchism could be the ugly form of a rising Chinese nationalism as all we have to do is look at the lost territories of the 19th century. One retired Japanese diplomat suggested to me that while Americans were sometimes foolish we generally "meant well." I have heard the usual litany of adjectives describing Americans as "naive" elsewhere in East Asia many times over. When a state faces security dilemma (e.g., PRC wants its day in the sun and all the other states see that as a rapidly growing security threat), I'd posit that proximity matters more than some bumbling hegemon who breaks something in a china shop. While I don't believe a military conflict between the United States and PRC is inevitable, I strongly suspect a rise in tensions between China and her neighbors is very likely in the next several decades.
That is why I just don't think a potential "balancing" phenomenon against the United States in East Asia is very likely. In fact I would expect "bandwagoning" to take place except in South Korea. John Gerard Ruggie once wrote about the social and institutiona l dimensions of American hegemony in the postwar era. Whether one calls them the manifestations of "soft power" or any other convenient ideal type de jour, I think the fact that the Pacific separates us from India and Japan matters in shaping their threat assessment.