There’s little debate over those capabilities, which are clearly superior to what they were only a few years ago, and improving fast. But China’s intentions are harder to read. David Finkelstein, director of China Studies at the Center for Naval Analyses in Alexandria, Va., says that he shares the “great uneasiness about how China will use its incipient but growing maritime power” throughout the region, but also notes that in recent years China has concluded that “time is on their side on Taiwan” and thus have been “relatively more relaxed” than in the past.

The obvious Cold War analogy is to the policy of containment: George Kennan believed that the Soviet Union hoped to dance on America’s grave but he was prepared to wait for history to inevitably unspool itself; the Soviets could thus be deterred by a patient and persistent policy of containment. Finkelstein argues that a combination of forceful American diplomacy, which he credits the Obama administration with undertaking, and the current level of American military presence — the Pacific fleet and 60,000 active-duty troops in the region — has already contained China’s ambitions, and will probably continue to do so. Kaplan, too, for all his projections of growing Chinese naval and air power, argues for maintaining the current state of military deployment. In short, it’s the intentions that matter.

The authors of “Asian Alliances,” by contrast, tend to infer China’s intentions from its capacities. In an ominous scenario that carries a strong whiff of Herman Kahn, or perhaps Dr. Strangelove, they describe China using missiles and bombers to launch a devastating attack on Taiwan and the United States responding with a missile strike against the mainland, which in turn leads to … Armageddon.