In Rivals, the former editor-in-chief of the Economist takes on Asia’s giants and examines the historical roots and global implications of China, India and Japan competing for resources and influence.

Given its slower growth, how seriously can Japan compete with India and China?

I think Japan will be a less ambitious rival. While China and India think that their destiny is to lead the world, Japan will be a rival [because of] fear of the others and out of a need to play the balance of power game to protect itself and its interests. Japan has a long history as an isolationist country that comes out of its shell when it feels threatened.

What realities temper India and China’s ambitions?

China faces the awkward dilemma of wanting to keep a low profile and remain nonconfrontational while needing resources and opportunities to invest their capital—thus they are inevitably hitting controversies as with their investments in Sudan and Spielberg’s resignation from the Beijing Olympics. Now, India feels a certain manifest destiny; it feels threatened by China and wants to be taken seriously—however, it doesn’t have the global range of China and is at a much earlier stage of development. Still, their elite are so well-educated and sophisticated that they want to leapfrog and be taken seriously today, now.

How will the United States react as China “returns to normalcy” and becomes the world’s biggest economy?

It will be difficult for Americans to come to terms with it, but once the realization catches hold, they’ll come to see it as a normal state of affairs. After all, the type of world and the ideals America has stood for (of course we Brits see these as British ideas!), with liberalism and open markets for capitalism to operate in, is precisely the sort of world where China should be the biggest or one of the biggest economies. It’s actually a wonderful endorsement of the American way, and after the initial shock and concern have subsided, America will accept China’s new status—and of course there is no alternative to accepting it.

What are the environmental implications of these countries’ rapid growth?

We should be concerned, but not apocalyptically gloomy. China is actually facing it head-on—they’ve been assaulted by environmental issues, so a movement is gathering strength, and I think we’ll see major adaptations in the next five years as local concerns dovetail with global ones. India faces more difficult issues—they’re much poorer and it’s harder for them to make the tradeoff between environmental protection and the economic growth they so desperately need.