Posted January. 27, 2018 07:21,
Updated January. 27, 2018 08:06
“America and China are destined for war,” the book “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides Trap?” written by Graham Allison starts with this confusing and daring conclusion. As Napoleon Bonaparte famously said, “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will move the world,” we are witnessing the emergence of China bringing an enormous change in the U.S.-led world order. But most people would probably think that a war between the United States and China would never break out.
The author, who is a national security policy expert and former director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, argues that the possibility of a seemingly absurd U.S.-China war is higher than most of us think. His argument is on the grounds of Thucydides Trap first identified by ancient Greek historian Thucydides. Thucydides Trap refers to the risk of outbreak of war when a rising power threatens to displace a dominant power. The term was originated from Thucydides’ analysis that “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta,” which made the Peloponnesian War inevitable. It means if an emerging power is strong enough to threaten a ruling power, the most likely outcome is an armed clash between the two.
Looking back in the history of a mankind, a war usually broke out in similar situations. The writer found 16 cases, where a rising power took a ruling power’s place. Among them, 12 cases, such as the World War I, II, Sino-Japanese War and Napoleonic Wars ended up with a war. A trade friction between America and Japan in the middle of the 20th century led to attack on Pearl Harbor.
Then, where do America and China stand currently? China has become a giant, overtaking America in terms of manufacturing and market size by doubling the size of its economy every seven years. In order to recapture past glories, China is rebuilding the country by implementing strong anti-corruption policies, instilling nationalism, carrying out a reshuffle, and restructuring the bureaucracy. But America does not acknowledge rising China. There is another risk factor. “If Hollywood were producing a movie about the United States and China and on a path to war, central casting could find no better American lead than Donald Trump,” the author said. The two leaders have “ominous similarities,” such as nationalistic ambition, unique leadership and daunting domestic challenges. They actually failed to reach a compromise in the U.S.-China summit last year over trade imbalances and the North Korean nuclear crisis.
To be sure, a war is not always destined to happen. There were four cases, where a rising and ruling powers avoided war. In the 15th century, España replaced Portugal’s place peacefully thanks to the Pope’s intervention and in the early 20th century, Britain avoided war with America by using its diplomatic skills to appease America’s excessive demands and at the same time protect its national interest. Will America and China become the 13th case that ends up with a war? Or will they become the fifth case that avoided a war? According to the author, the answer lies in how clearly they understand Thucydides Trap and how much they try to seek peace.