The anniversary of Pearl Harbor is commemorated on Dec. 8 in Japan — the time locally when thousands of kilometers away, its carrier-based planes sank much of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and launched war against America. For 75 years now, many Japanese have reflected on that moment with great remorse, appalled by the hubris and miscalculation that led to the attack. Later this month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will personally travel to Pearl Harbor to commemorate the tragedy. Sadly, though, the leaders and citizens of another Asian power appear to have forgotten those lessons.

For all the differences between Imperial Japan in the 1930s and Communist China today, I can't help but see parallels between the two. Like Japan then, China is a rising Asian nation whose thinking is informed by patriotism, suspicion of outsiders and the remnants of an inferiority complex toward the West. Its military seems not entirely constrained by civilian control. And just as Japan did in the 1930s, China is defying international opinion and challenging the maritime status quo in the western Pacific, where the U.S. defends vital sea lines of communication for all nations.

The roots of this stance lie in a history very similar to Japan's. Both nations suffered at the hands of Western powers. In Japan, at the end of the Edo Period in 1853, American "Black Ships" sailed into Uraga Bay. U.S. pressure ultimately forced the new Meiji government to institute an "open-door policy" welcoming foreign trade and traders.