One of the standard phrases in the repertoire of U.S. diplomats for more than the last decade have been that the United States does not recognize any sort of “spheres of influence” around the world—and vigorously upholds the right of any sovereign state to choose its foreign policy orientation.

And, when uttered in the context of the Eurasian space, it has usually been followed by some statement of support for “multiple routes” for oil and gas from this region to reach hungry markets.

But the genie of international relations has found interesting and ironic ways to fulfill these wishes. Eurasian energy is indeed finding different and new ways to markets—by flowing eastward to China and to other parts of Asia.  Boyko Nitzov observed last week, “The massive infusion of Chinese investment in upstream projects and transport infrastructure across Eurasia is, of course, a major driver for reorienting oil and gas flows from the west to the east.”

Meanwhile, Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation warns:

With projects of great geopolitical complexity taking 10 years and more to negotiate, and with multi-billion-dollar financing not readily available at the current energy price levels, the chances that by 2019 we will see much oil and gas flowing West from East in general, and West Caspian in particular – under Western ownership – look slimmer than two years ago. Yet the growth in Chinese demand remains constant. China is consistently winning energy bids in Central Asia, such as in Kazakh oil and Turkmen gas, and the forthcoming construction of the Russia-China oil and gas pipelines could decrease the availability of resources for exports to the West.

European colleagues were assuring me only a few short years ago that Russia was “locked in” to dependence on Western European energy markets; perhaps that confidence is not as sure today.

And the same principles that the U.S. has insisted must apply in the Eurasian space are being utilized by a growing number of Latin American countries, eager to balance their historic dependence on Washington with new ties, especially to China, Iran and Russia. On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton observed:

I don’t think in today’s world, where it’s a multipolar world, where we are competing for attention and relationships with at least the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians, that it’s in our interest to turn our backs on countries in our own hemisphere.  So we’re going to try some different approaches. No illusions about who we’re dealing with or what the issues are. But I think it’s worth a try, because what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked very well. And, in fact, if you look at the gains, particularly in Latin America, that Iran is making and China is making, it’s quite disturbing. I mean, they are building very strong economic and political connections with a lot of these leaders. I don’t think that’s in our interest.

What all of this signals is that the world is becoming a much more competitive place—and the United States and Europe have to make some decisions about what they are prepared to bid in extending and maintaining their influence in parts of the world we have seen as being “our backyards.”

Not taking Latin America for granted, for instance; or focusing attention on which energy projects best serve Western influence (and committing to them), rather than having governments and private sector interests constantly passing the buck back and forth. The rhetoric emanating from Washington and other Western capitals is encouraging—but will words be backed up by action—starting with cold hard cash?

Nikolas K. Gvosdev, an Atlantic Council contributing editor, is on the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of the Navy or the U.S. government.