Are the United States and China destined for war?

Ali Wyne writes: Concern about an armed confrontation between the United States and China is growing.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has stated that the United States should not be bound by the “One China” policy unless as part of a grand bargain of sorts, whereby China reduces taxes on U.S. exports, stops construction in the South China Sea, and cooperates more closely to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang has warned that if that policy “is compromised or disrupted, the sound and steady growth of the China-U.S. relationship as well as bilateral cooperation in major fields would be out of the question.” China recently flew a conventional bomber over the South China Sea to reinforce its claim to the “nine-dash line,” a demarcation that the United States claims is in violation of international maritime law
Growing strategic tensions offer a useful occasion to revisit well-trodden terrain: are the United States and China fated to repeat the mistakes Britain and Germany made a century earlier? Given that the two countries account for roughly a third of the world’s output, a fifth of its trade, and a quarter of its people, observers cannot pose the question enough.

No matter how forcefully the United States and China may avow that they will devise an enlightened model of interaction, they, too, are subject to structural dynamics dating back to ancient Greece. Political scientist Graham Allison has encapsulated those dynamics with his famous term “Thucydides’s trap,” which journalist David Sanger defines as “that deadly combination of calculation and emotion that…can turn healthy rivalry into antagonism or worse.” [Continue reading…]

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