At the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty organization here, and in other Allied capitals, diplomats, military strategists and politicians are trying to digest the meaning of the extraordinary events that have unfolded 6,000 miles away in Asia in recent months.
These include: The signing of a Chinese-Japanese treaty of peace and friendship last month: the Chinese drive to modernize its industry and defenses with help from the West: the unprecedent travels to Romania and Yugoslavia by Chinese leader Hua Kuo-feng and the discussion in Tokyo about an expanded defense role for Japan.
Mixed with all this are the battling between Vietnam and Cambodia and Hanoi's campaign to win friends in the United States.
For NATO and its individual member countries, the situation involves potential bonuses or debts, mostly because virtually everything that is happening in Asia - with the exception of Vietnam's maintenance of strong ties to Moscow rather than Peking - is troubling to the Soviet Union.
Intensified Japanese economic cooperation with China will lessen Tokyo's economic cooperation with the Soviets in Asia, especially in developing Soviet natural resoures.
A modernized China with stronger links to the West could put more strain on Moscow's two front defense alignment, which already causes the Kremlin to keep one-fourth and sometimes one-third of its military forces pointing east instead of west.
Although Peking is still relatively poor, its has potential oil wealth and represents new business for many order-hungry Western European industries.
The potential growth of Japan's military power, especially at sea, might also change the picture for the Soviets in the Picific and might someday be a factor affecting how U.S. forces are deployed there as well.
On the other hand, the Soviets are immensely more powerful than China and more important to the West. The dilemma facing individual countries within the NATO alliance is how to take part in China's new expansiveness without antagonizing the Soviets.
For example, one NATO official points out the problem for Britian posed by Chinese expression of interest in buying 200 Harrier vertical-takeoof jet fighter-bombers.
The Chinese do not have a good network of airfields along the Sino-Soviet border to handle new conventional jet fighters: therefore, the Harrier jumpjet is appealing.
"The Western governments are looking for orders generally," the official says, "but what we do about the military side is unclear. The British are nervous about it. There is a commercial benefit and a foot in the door for future business, but what will the Russians think."
Actually an official here explains, one reason that new strategic developments in Asia have not been officially discussed in a special NATO forum may be that there are, in fact, commercial matters "that are too sensitive to talk about around the table," a reference to possibly competitive business interests among the Allies.
The Harrier, as an example, poses two other problems. First it is extremely hard to maintain and would require the training of many Chinese technicians. Peking does plan to send thousands of students abroad for technical training, including several hundred to West Germany, and this may also annoy the Soviets.
Second, the Harrier can be used for offensive purposes. Several Allied officials believe sale of defensive equipment such as antitank missiles might be easier. Chinese teams looking into arms purchases have also visited West Germany and France in recent months.
If the Chinese ever do around to placing orders, a coordinating committee for NATO and Japan set up some time ago in Paris to consider export licenses for sensitive items would no doubt get a crack at the issues involved. But political consideration probably will be the decisive factor.
"It would almost be a hostile act not to sell them some things in some circumstances." one official says. "After all, we are not at each other's throats: they are no threat to us. The Soviet have access to our grain and technology, so to deny the Chinese access to some of our capability would be hostile."
Still, another official says. "You can't forget three things. One, the Chinese are no more sympathetic to Western capitalism than are the Russians. It's just that we prefer to keep one Russian eye pointed east, and somebody is going to sell to the Chinese anyway. Two, we do not agree with Peking that war is inevitable. And three, we have a degree of interest in not antagonizing the Russians.
Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev has called China "NATO's 16th member" because of Peking's effort to get the West to keep the European front strong and the Soviet leader has warned the West that responding to China's overtures is shortsighted and will be regretted.
Two other considerations are also inhibiting more formal discussions of Asian developments here.
One is what an official describes as the "very sensitive issue" of whether the West should encourage a greater defense effort for Japan. Attitudes range from enthusiasm for some expansion to great wariness of a rearmed and industrially powerful Japan. No one is suggesting a major expansion, one official says, but there is some feeling that the Japanese have had a free ride on defense costs for many years.
The other factor is that Asia simply is far outside of NATO's geographical area and formal talk about events there, in NATO's view, feeds the hardline Moscow view that NATO wants to expand its charter and encircle the Soviet Union.
Maybe 20 years from now people will look back and say this was really a historical turning point," one experienced diplomat said.
"I don't think the Soviets can take any pleasure from what's happening in Asia, but we can't relax because somebody thinks Soviet military resources will have to be diverted to their Asian flanks."
Most NATO official interviewed believe that day is either too far off to speculate about, or that the Soviet's would meet such a need by expanding their forces rather than by shifting them from Europe.
"If that happens," the diplomat added, referring to the switch of forces," we'll take it as a bonus. But we can't count on that happening. The situation could always change back, and we can't plan our forces in Asia on such hopes."