China Voice: Ten reasons China, U.S. can avoid Thucydides Trap
News | 27.09.2015 | 11:23
Xinhua – Thucydides Trap warns of the danger when a rising power comes into conflict with a ruling one — as Athens and Sparta did in the 5th century B.C. Most such confrontations have ended in war.
While the 2,500-year-old concept is worth studying, applying it to China-U.S. relations, as some commentators have done, is like modern doctors basing their medical practices on the writings of Erasistratus.
As Chinese President Xi Jinping said during his visit to the United States, there is no such thing as the so-called Thucydides trap in the world. But should major countries time and again make the mistakes of strategic miscalculation, they might create such traps for themselves.
The world today is very different from the time of ancient Greece and mankind has more wisdom to avoid history repeating itself.
As a Chinese saying goes, to achieve success, one has to obtain “opportunities of time vouchsafed by Heaven, advantages of situation afforded by the Earth and the union arising from the accord of people,” or to put differently, right time, right place and right person.
If these three conditions are ripe, China and the United States face an unprecedented opportunity to break the trap and create a win-win situation for both countries and the world as a whole.
We have reasons to believe that the three conditions are ripe.
Reason 1: Century of peace
This is a world where peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit have become the trend of the times. The Cold War mentality and zero-sum game theory should be abandoned.
Despite continuous regional conflicts, there is no sign of another world war breaking out. More and more countries choose to sit and negotiate in solving their disputes. Those who don’t follow the peaceful trend will ultimately fail.
With globalization deepening, one country’s loss will definitely not just be its own. “No conflict, no confrontation” will serve as the bottom line for the relationship between the world’s two largest economies in the new era.
Reason 2: Historical lessons
It is important to remember the pledge made 70 years ago by the founders of the United Nations “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.”
Governments and societies of both countries have reflected on the historical lessons on the 100th anniversary of WWI and the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII. Hatred and war can only bring disaster and distress, especially when both China and the United States have nuclear weapons.
If war erupts, China’s development would surely suffer a severe blow, but the U.S. leading role in the world would also be weakened.
As allies during WWII, the two countries shoulder more responsibility to safeguard peace and prevent tragedy repeating itself.
Reason 3: China road
“It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable,” as Thucydides wrote. China is not Athens and the United States is not Sparta.
It is true that China is rising, but it is a peaceful rise. China just wants to bid farewell to its humiliating modern history and realize its dream of national rejuvenation through reform and opening up.
As Xi said in his speech on China-U.S. relations in Seattle, development remains China’s top priority. To any one charged with the governance of China, their primary mission is to focus all the resources on improving people’s living standard and gradually achieve common prosperity.
China sees itself as a member of the global community of common destiny. It does not seek alliances or expansion. There is no cause for fear as China has neither the interest, nor the need, to challenge the United States for leadership by launching a war.
Reason 4: Wide Pacific
Both China and the United States are important members of the Asia-Pacific region which boasts the world’s fastest economic growth and the greatest potential for development. It is also a region of converging interests for both countries.
China and the U.S. shoulder the common responsibility to maintain peace, stability and prosperity of the Asia Pacific, which is also the wish of regional members.
Reason 5: Economic interdependence
Economic interdependence alone does not guarantee peace, but it is indeed a strong force to prevent war. It is in America’s interest for China to be successful, peaceful and prosperous and vice versa.
The two country’s 555-billion-U.S.-dollar annual trade volume and 120-billion-U.S.-dollar two-way investment are fundamental to bilateral ties.
It is estimated that by 2022 China will have become the world’s biggest importer. U.S. exports to China are expected to surpass 530 billion U.S. dollars and generate more than 3.34 million new jobs.
The Pacific provides enough room for both sides to develop. It is the first time in history that an existing power and a rising power have so many shared interests. Standing on the same ground, even if the two countries have 100 reasons to diverge, they have 1,000 reasons to cooperate.
Reason 6: Arena for global governance
China is now a major player and supporter of the current international system, in which it is a full member. The more developed China becomes, the more it needs a peaceful and stable international environment. So does the United States.
“If China and the United States cooperate well, they can become a bedrock of global stability and a booster of world peace,” Xi said.
China-U.S. cooperation in international and regional affairs is expanding, including hotspot issues like Iranian and Korean nuclear tensions as well as global challenges ranging from climate change and counter-terrorism to peace-keeping and poverty reduction and development.
These pragmatic steps demonstrate the two sides do in fact share interests and can successfully work together.
Reason 7: Leaders’ interaction
President Xi and President Obama have agreed to promote the China-U.S. relationship. The two leaders have kept frequent communication and made in-depth exchanges on fundamental issues, including the substantive and productive discussions at Sunnylands, California, and in Yingtai, Beijing.
Their interaction could ensure that both sides understand each other’s strategic intention and avoid making mistakes on fundamental questions.
Xi’s visit this year is the third exchanged between the two presidents in the past three years. It shows just how much both sides value this relationship and how willing both sides are to deepen mutually beneficial cooperation.
Reason 8: Public foundation
Forty-four years ago, the visit of the U.S. table tennis team to China opened a new chapter in China-U.S. relations. Now there is a flight between the two countries every 17 minutes. The number of students studying in each other’s country has exceeded 500,000. In the next three years, China will support a total of 50,000 Chinese and American students to study in each other’s countries.
All these lay a good public opinion foundation for cooperation.
A major highlight of Xi’s visit to the United States is his extensive outreach to the American people. His visit will generate a new wave of interest in China and take people-to-people exchange to new heights.
Reason 9: Difference management
A different history, culture, social system and development stage make it just natural for China and the United States to have divergences, but it is not the mainstream of their ties. Even if there are issues they cannot resolve, they can manage them.
Over 90 intergovernmental dialogue and cooperation mechanisms have been set up so that where there are unhelpful comments or examples of narrow-minded strategic thinking, they cannot prevent the two countries from cooperation.
The two sides will continue to maintain strategic communication in the areas of the military, open seas, outer space, and cyber domains to increase trust.
Reason 10: Mutual respect
China and the United States are great nations with great peoples. In 1972, Richard Nixon’s visit to China was a handshake across the vast Pacific Ocean, opening the door to normalization of relations.
American leaders have emphasized many times that they welcome a strong, prosperous and stable China playing a bigger role in international and regional affairs.
Now it is time for the U.S. side to match this important statement with concrete actions and follow it earnestly in its interactions with China.
“The world makes way for the man who knows where he is going,” as American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said.
Now the three conditions (time, place and person) are ripe, it is time for China and the United States to stand on the same side to escape the historical fatalism of confrontation between big powers.
If Thucydides trap is replaced with a new model of major-country relationship, China and the United States will have made a great contribution to the world’s future and mankind’s wisdom.
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