Scholar offers tips on how China and US can steer clear of Thucydides Trap

Source:Global Times Published: 2014-6-19 19:23:01

Zheng Yongnian, The Big Picture: China's Rise should Go Beyond Emotions and Ideologies, The Oriental Press, June 2014

More than 2,000 years ago when Athenian historian Thucydides recounted the internecine war between Sparta and Athens, he wrote "what made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta."

Thucydides' observation was later formulated as a law of the international relations: A rising power will cause fear in an established power, which will escalate toward war.

Graham Allison, former dean of John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, coined a phrase for it - the Thucydides Trap.

The law has been in evidence on several occasions. The latest ones were WWI and WWII, in which Germany and Japan, both rising powers, failed to challenge the established powers of the UK and the US.

Now, people's attention has been shifted on China and the US, a new pair of rising power and established power. A question is pending: Will both nations have to face the same destiny?

In Zheng Yongnian's new book, The Big Picture: China's Rise should Go Beyond Emotions and Ideologies, the author listed 12 questions, which are all closely related to the future of a rising China, to explore whether China is able to avoid the trap.

As a political scientist and director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, Zheng can quickly sniff and sort out the barriers China faces in its rising process.

In the first chapter of this book, the author left out all the clichés that readers are bored with, and went straight to 12 unequivocal questions that he examines from different dimensions.

In the 12 questions, the book focuses on hot topics such as the impact of China's rise on the current global order, the legitimacy of China's nonalignment policy and China's strategy to deal with its maritime geopolitics.

He also examines how to use soft power to ease down the tensions prompted by the increase of military strength, a topic of great interest to readers.

Chinese leadership has realized the risk of the Thucydides Trap, and publicly proposed establishing a new type of major power relationship between China and the US.

However, Zheng points out that policy statements are not enough to avoid a war. These idealist policies cannot produce effective tools and methods. Based on the fact that emotional statements filling in public debates about China's role in the international community, Zheng believes "China is nearing the trap."

The author suggested that China should think strategically about Washington's "rebalancing to Asia" policy.

The book argues that China should be firm about two points. One is that as an Asian country, China's expanding influence is irreversible. The US and other Asian countries, whether they like it not, should get used to it.

The other one is that the influence of the US is diminishing, but it won't vanish. In fact, whether China can play a positive role in this area, to some extent, depends on whether the US is cooperative.

The existence of US influence is beneficial to China, and there is great potential for bilateral cooperation.

Many political scientists would like to see the future Sino-US relationship as a competitive one.

It is true in a way. But both sides must be reminded that too much competition will finally lead to a confrontation, and such a consequence is independent from the will of both nations.

In Zheng's mind, the Thucydides Trap is a law that can only be evaded rather than broken.

Posted in: Fresh off the Shelf

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