What is different now, is that China is rich enough to start to project power - and as her economy has grown so has her dependency on the natural resourses from overseas - specifically Africa and the Middle East. In her drive to protect the path her resources take to get to markets, China is no different than we are.
Her SLOCs are not easy.
One interesting aspect of this has been China's effort to have more control over as much of the waterspace as possible on and athwart their SLOC - and the reaction of her neighbors to Chinas efforts.
In an article in Eurasia Review by Zhao Hong, a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies, the author provides a nice primer as this relates to SE Asia.
... the South China Sea dispute is far from being resolved and could become an obstacle in the building of the Maritime Silk Road. For example, the prospect for joint development of maritime resources in the South China Sea has been under discussion since the early 1990s. Yet little progress has been made up. From the Southeast Asian perspectives, Beijing has not suggested that the ‘shelving’ of the territorial disputes and the promotion of joint development mean that their sovereign claims have become less strong or that joint development would lead to longer-term prospects for territorial compromises, as China had indicated that “Beijing would only concede to joint cooperative activities if the other claimants first acknowledge Chinese sovereignty over the South China Sea”. While China believes that domestic regime change and resource nationalism are the main factors for the failure of joint development,16 as in the case of the Philippines where it has been claimed that “a joint venture with China on equal terms would be a violation of the country’s constitution”.17 Hence, the claimant states have continued to argue over the sovereignty issue instead of temporarily shelving it to benefit the establishment of a joint development scheme.
The relationship between China and the US is one between a rising power and an established dominant power. Competition in Southeast Asia is inevitable although “the balance of interests in the region strongly favours China because the various diplomatic and territorial quarrels roiling East Asia are of much greater salience and concern to China than to the US”. While it has become difficult for the US to hold its primacy in the region, China cannot be a single power of domination in the region either. The two powers will have to develop a clearer mutual understanding and greater mutual acceptance, and work together to maintain a balance of power in the region to limit strategic rivalry.
ASEAN is at the centre of this big power relationship and has been able to establish platforms that could play a supplementary role in channelling the US-China relations in more predictable and constructive directions. American and Chinese interests do intersect in Southeast Asia, and ASEAN is a relatively neutral body friendly to both.31 Therefore, Southeast Asia can help determine whether China and the US can build a new model of big power relations, based on rules and dynamic changes of economic relations developed in the region.