Almost all the foreign-policy talk in the presidential campaign has been motivated, one way or another, by 9/11 and the war in Iraq. Yet it's a good bet that the biggest foreign-policy issues for the next President will involve the Far East rather than the Middle Eastand in particular, the consequences of China's stunning economic growth.
Turn to any of the major concerns facing America today, and in each case it's startling how large a role China plays.
Start with the soaring price of oil, which has its roots in Asia. Oil at $100 at barrel is, in large part, a made-in-China phenomenon.
It's true that the global supply of oil has been growing sluggishly, mainly because the world is running out of the stuff. But the reason the oil supply hasn't been able to keep up with demand is surging oil consumption in newly industrializing economiesabove all, China.
China currently accounts for only 9 percent of the world's demand for oil. But because its oil usage has risen along with its economy in the last few years, China has been responsible for a third of the growth in global oil consumption.
Another issue is the growing concern in the U.S. about the effects of globalization on jobs and wages, as imports of manufactured goods from low-wage countries, and China in particular, have soared: As a percentage of America's G.D.P., imports of industrial goods from China quadrupled from 1993 to 2006.
Most important is the issue of climate change. Why is that a China issue? Well, China is already, by some estimates, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Between 2000 and 2005, China accounted for more than half the increase in the world's carbon-dioxide emissions.
What this means is that any attempt to mitigate global warming will be woefully inadequate unless it includes China.
So what does all this tell us about the presidential race?
The truth is that China is too big to be bullied. But while the Chinese are our competitors in important respects, they're not our enemies, and they can be dealt with.
A lot of Americans, when they think about the next President's foreign-policy qualifications, seem to be looking for a herosomeone who will stand tall against terrorists or transform the world with their optimism.
But what they should be looking for is something more prosaic: a good negotiator, someone who can bargain effectively with some very tough customers and get the deals we need with Beijing on economics, energy, and the environment.