The presidency of George W. Bush began in January 2001. Initially, the Bush administration encountered a relatively stable international environment, with the USA as the undisputed hegemon and no apparent direct threat to its security. An emerging China, with a clear disadvantage in terms of military technology and still negotiating World Trade Organization (WTO) membership, was not in a position to challenge the USA at the global level. Russia was still recovering from the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and its new, more assertive president, Vladimir Putin, had only been in power for just over a year. The al-Aqsa intifada (or second intifada) had begun a few months earlier, but peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority were taking place and held the promise of a breakthrough. Thus, the situation in the Middle East was relatively stable. In East Asia, the rise of China had undoubtedly made the Asian giant one of the two key players in regional politics, along with the USA. Meanwhile, relations between China and its neighbours had steadily improved. Memories of the second Taiwan Strait crisis were fading and disagreements over the South China Sea islands were being dealt with through diplomacy. ASEAN+3, involving all Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states plus China, Japan and South Korea, had been institutionalized in 1999, thus helping further to reduce possible tensions in the region. It was equally important for Washington that its central role in the region was not being challenged. Hence, the first few months of the Bush presidency were marked by stability in foreign affairs.