Japanese and Chinese warplanes and warships are now circling each other near what Tokyo calls the Senkaku Islands and Beijing calls the Diaoyou. These rocks were occupied by Japan in 1895, when the Empire of the Sun was at war with China and colonizing Taiwan.
After Imperial Japan fell in 1945 and disgorged its colonies, the Senkakus, along with the Ryukyus -- of which the largest is Okinawa -- were returned by President Nixon. And as the Senkakus are but a few rocks sticking out of the East China Sea, no one seemed to mind, before reports surfaced of oil and gas deposits in adjacent waters.
Beijing restated China's claim. Last week, Chinese warships reportedly locked firing radar on Japanese ships and helicopters near the islands. China denies it.
What has this to do with us?
The United States has reportedly signaled Japan that the Senkakus are covered by our mutual defense treaty and if China attacks in those waters, and Japan goes to war, we stand with Japan.
Sixty years ago, U.S. commitments to go to war to keep South Korea and Japan from falling into the Stalin-Mao sphere were supported by Americans, who willingly sent their sons to the Far East to defend the "frontiers of freedom."
But South Korea and Japan long ago became economic powers, fully capable of undertaking their own defense. And the Cold War enemies we confronted no longer exist.
Why have we failed to adapt to the new world we are in? As Lord Salisbury said, "The commonest error in politics is sticking to the carcass of dead policies."
Vladimir Putin's Russia is not Stalin's. If Putin is in a quarrel with Japan over the Kuriles, why should that be our quarrel? If Japan is in a quarrel with Xi Jinping's China over the Senkakus, why is that our quarrel?
Are our war guarantees to Japan and South Korea eternal?
Undeniably, should the U.S. seek to renegotiate its defense pacts with Seoul and Tokyo, each would consider, given the rogue regime in the North, a nuclear deterrent of its own. This would stun and shock China.
But what help have the Chinese been to us lately?