The week after Beijing and Moscow declared a strategic alliance, it’s telling that China chooses to start a public spat with Vietnam with a flotilla of warships, a big swinging oil platform and the sinking of a Vietnamese vessel. In the present climate, Vietnam’s authoritarian style of government should make for a natural partner against the US pivot. But perhaps China’s motive is more small-minded and short term. Vietnam is an easy target against which to project Chinese nationalism. It also stands alone with no military alliances to fall back on. But this is not without risk. Beijing has a record of picking bad fights and flaky allies and Vietnam has record of stubborn self-reliance, having given bloody noses to France, America and China itself. It may turn out to be Vietnam and not America that stops China’s present strong-arm policy in the South China Sea.