As China works to exert its influence in Asia, it’s up to the region’s other economic, military and political heavyweights to balance the scales. On this score, Washington has strong allies and even several old adversaries who want a closer relationship with the United States. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (pictured) is a nationalist who is committed to cracking his country out of its post-World War II shell to take a more aggressive line with Beijing. Washington, which is treaty-bound to back Japan in a conflict, worries that Abe could spark a regional crisis by overreacting to incessant, and growing, Chinese provocations. American officials are also trying to convince South Korean President Park Geun-hye to stop regarding Tokyo as a potential adversary but an ally in a more unified front against Beijing. Meanwhile, in America’s onetime colony, Philippine President Benigno Aquino wants a larger US presence as China bullies its smaller neighbor. Ditto with Vietnam, where President Truong Tan Sang wants a closer relationship with its former enemy Washington. American forces are increasing their deployments to Australia, where Prime Minister Tony Abbott is a willing host. And while Ma Ying-jeou was elected to improve relations with the mainland, he too worries about a more assertive China that claims Taiwan as its own, rather than an independent nation. Meanwhile, Singapore’s President Tony Tan is a key regional sounding board for Washington and ally, allowing the forward deployment of US littoral combat ships from the country’s base at Sembawang.