By Filipe Porto*

On March 22, Graham Allison, a renowned American international policy scholar, said in Beijing that the United States and China need to exercise restraint, dissolve confrontation, and handle bilateral competition and cooperation more intelligently, in order to build a stable basis for bilateral relations and jointly deal with global challenges.

“The 2024 election year has brought the United States into the ‘season of stupidity,’ with politicians on both sides of the aisle saying extreme things, and some even saying things that are far from the truth. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate are criticizing China as they compete to see who can be tougher on China. This has also increased the potential danger of tensions between us and China falling into the ‘Thucydides Trap’,” said Graham Allison at the launch of a new book (English and Chinese) titled “Escaping the Thucydides Trap: Dialogue with Graham Allison on China– US Relations”, in partnership with the think tank China Center of Globalization, the CCG.

Credits: CCG

Allison and Wang Huiyao, president of the CCG, held an in-depth dialogue on “how to avoid the ‘Thucydides Trap’ and develop stable relations between major countries.”

Allison used the “Thucydides Trap” as a backdrop to analyze the complexities and subtleties of relations between the United States and China. He believes that an examination of the history of the past five hundred years shows that wars between emerging powers and established powers are not inevitable, but how to establish a new model of great power relations between the United States and China is still a challenge that needs to be addressed.

“We are now heading towards a great power confrontation and we need to find a way for the US and China to coexist,” Allison said. The US and China should draw on the wisdom of Chinese history, including “Yin and Yang Reconciliation”, “Competitive Partners” and “I have you, you have me”, to achieve common development in interdependence.

Going further, the author quotes an excerpt from Sun Tzu’s Nine Places: “The Wu people and the Yue people hate each other. When they are in the same boat and in the wind, they will help each other like a right hand”, highlighting that although both sides have old grievances, they should help each other when they encounter problems together.

The author further cites a speech by President Xi Jinping during his visit to the United States in September 2015, where he stated: “In the world, there was originally no ‘Thucydides Trap’, but if great powers continue to make strategic mistakes repeatedly , they may end up creating a ‘Thucydides Trap’ for themselves.” He highlights that these important remarks by President Xi have great significance for overcoming the ‘Thucydides Trap’ and building a new form of relationship between great powers.

Allison, who is also founding dean of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and the originator of the “Thucydides Trap” theory, drew on ancient Greek historian Thucydides’ exposition of the Peloponnesian War to reveal the possibility of strong conflicts and even even wars between new emerging powers and established powers due to national interests.

During the session, Wang Huiyao, also the author of this book, said that the inspiration and materials for the work came from the many in-depth conversations and exchanges he and Allison have had since 2010. The book cites Allison’s articles, reports and interviews about the relationship China-US from 2017 to 2022, covering a range of topics including the future direction of China-US relations and lessons from history. Each chapter discusses how China and the United States can avoid strategic misjudgment and avoid war of different dimensions, and presents methods and suggestions for overcoming the “Thucydides Trap.”

Following Allison’s visit to Beijing, there was a meeting with China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, on March 26. Wang highlighted the importance of peaceful coexistence between the two nations, emphasizing the principles of mutual respect and win-win cooperation. Allison agreed, highlighting the need to deeply understand Chinese culture and politics. Both expressed a desire to strengthen dialogue and find ways to promote a more stable and healthy relationship between China and the United States, recognizing its importance in today’s globalized world.

The following day (27), Allison participated in the meeting of the President of China, Xi Jinping, with representatives from the academic, business and strategic communities. It was the Chinese leader’s first face-to-face meeting with US figures since the meeting with Joe Biden in San Francisco, in November 2023.

Citing again the “Thucydides Trap” reference, Allison presented the hypothesis that there is a possibility of intense conflict or even war between emerging powers and established powers. President Xi, in turn, pointed out that the greatest consensus reached in San Francisco is that relations between China and the United States must stabilize and improve.


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