Zuo Fengrong, “The Thucydides Trap and a New Type of Great Power Relationship: Discursive Competition in Sino-American Relations”
Introduction and Translation by Selena Orly and David Ownby
Zuo Fengrong (b. 1964) is not, to our knowledge, a particularly important public intellectual in China, but she does have her own Aisixiang page, one of the very few women to do so. Zuo is a professor of international relations at the Central Party School in Beijing, and appears to be a specialist on the decline and fall of the former Soviet Union, a topic which is of considerable importance to the Chinese Communist Party and to many Chinese intellectuals. We of course imagine the Party School as the veritable holy shrine of ideological orthodoxy, but the recent case of Cai Xia, the former Party School professor expelled from the Party last year for calling the CCP a “zombie party,” illustrates that even the Party School is not safe from liberalism. (Actually, Cai’s own fascinating account of her fall from grace, recently published in Foreign Affairs, suggests that at least some professors at the Party School see their role as that of debating actual ideas, and that pressures toward orthodoxy come from the outside).
Nothing in Zuo’s text suggests similar liberal tendencies, but it is nonetheless interesting to read what Party School “orthodoxy” has to say about Sino-Americans relations and the “new great power relationship” China is proposing to the United States. Actually, Zuo’s piece is a longer (and thus more repetitive) version of Yuan Peng’s more succinct offering, made available on our site last time, full of quotes from Xi Jinping himself and from other authoritative Party documents. Indeed, the text, which was written between Biden’s election in November and his inauguration in January, it interesting to us above all for its reasonable, almost pleading tone.
“China does not want to challenge the world order,” Zuo insists over and over, once again citing Xi Jinping. Globalization is what allowed China to become rich and powerful, and China is perfectly happy to acknowledge America’s dominant position in the world as long as the U.S. will admit that there are now two great powers and not just one. We both want to make money and wield influence in a stable world order, Zuo continues, which means that the only conceivable posture is that of “win-win cooperation.”
There is not a whiff Wolf Warrior diplomacy in Zuo’s text. She even calls on China to be more “flexible” in her dealings with the rest of the world, and admits that much of the world tends to listen to the United States and not China, which means that China is currently losing the “discursive competition” referenced in the title to Zuo’s piece. At the same time, she of course identifies no concessions or policy changes China might implement to better “package” her version of a new great power relationship, but then her audience is presumably China’s Wolf Warriors—and other Chinese intellectuals—and not U.S. policy-makers.
“The growing economic and trade friction between China and the U.S., the fierce geo-strategic competition, and the deepening of mutual strategic suspicions, only seem to validate the Thucydides trap theory. It is true that the United States has come to regard China as its most important competitor, but that does not mean that China and the United States will eventually engage in war or other forms of all-out conflict and confrontation. There is a Chinese proverb that says: ‘the clap of a single hand makes no noise 一个巴掌拍不响’ and China will not confront the United States. China wants to take a new path of peaceful rise. The idea of the Thucydides trap does not fit the times. Therefore, China has to convey its own words to the world and change the stubborn way of thinking of some people.”
“China will not force other countries to accept its own model, as many countries have done throughout history, and that ‘we do not “import” foreign models, nor do we “export” Chinese models, and we will not ask other countries to “copy” China's practices.’ China's peaceful rise is itself a new phenomenon in the rise of great powers in world history. China is not like the United States, which was virtually identical to Great Britain [when it achieved great power status], nor is like the Soviet Union, a country completely different from capitalist powers, and even less is China like Germany and Japan, who attempted to seize development space by force like during in the Second World War. China's development and strength mainly depend on China’s seizing the opportunity of industrial transfer from developed countries, the use of the resources of the international community; it relies on the hard work and determination of the Chinese people and the benign interaction between China and the world. Therefore, China's development and power broaden the base of common interests among powerful countries, will not bring about confrontation or even war among great powers, but will be conducive to world peace and prosperity. It will take work to make these truths clear.”
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Since China became the world’s second largest economy after the United States, the question of how China and the United States should get along has become a matter of concern for politicians and scholars. In 2012, then-President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton implemented the "Asia-Pacific Rebalance" strategy, which was to a large extent aimed at containing China. In academic circles, Graham T. Allison (b. 1940), a Harvard University professor, has made the most popular claim that China and the United States are likely to fall into the Thucydides trap. He published a lengthy article in the September 2015 issue of The Atlantic magazine titled "The Thucydides Trap: Are the U.S. and China Headed for War?" In May 2017 he published his book Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap?
Since then, the mentions of Thucydides’ trap to describe the plight of Sino-US relations have increased. In late 2017 and early 2018, the Trump administration issued the National Security Strategy Report and the National Defense Strategy Report which explicitly characterized China as a "strategic competitor," and on June 1, 2019, the Indo-Pacific Strategy Report, which described China as a "revisionist state.” As the Sino-US trade dispute escalates, many fear that the U.S. and China will fall into a Thucydides trap and begin a new Cold War. The Thucydides trap seems to be a recognized theme of many people in the discourse on Sino-US relations, especially since the intensification of the Sino-US trade dispute and the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic, with the US efforts to shift the blame to China, which also seems to confirm this kind of statement.
But Chinese leaders and many scholars do not agree with the Thucydides trap theory. Xi Jinping has proposed that China and the United States build a new type of great power relationship based on no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, arguing that China will not follow the old path of great power hegemony, and that Sino-US relations will naturally not repeat the tragedy of great power relationships in history.
The Thucydides Trap is Part of History, not Today’s Reality
The traditional Western theory of great power relations emphasizes the struggle between great powers for world hegemony, and those who hold this theory tend to view China's rise and development in the light of the West's past experience, thus giving rise to various arguments about the "China threat theory”. The U.S. fears that China will replace the United States as the world's hegemonic power and that China and the US will fall into the Thucydides trap. Graham Allison wrote: "Motives aside, when a rising power threatens to displace an existing incumbent, the resulting structural pressures, without exception, lead to a violent conflict. This happened between Athens and Sparta in the 5th century B.C., between Germany and Britain a century ago, and even more so between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s, almost leading to a war between the two."
John Mearsheimer (b. 1947), a professor at the University of Chicago and an offensive realist, also believes that: “The great powers that shape the international system are on guard against each other, and the result is a struggle for power and profit. In fact, their ultimate goal is to obtain dominant power over other countries, because having dominant power is the best way to ensure their own survival. Power ensures security, and maximum power ensures maximum security. Countries facing this driving force are destined to clash with each other as a result, as each competitor seeks to gain a competitive advantage over the others. This is a tragedy.”
In his eyes, "international politics has always been a cruel and dangerous business, and it probably always will be. Although the intensity of competition among the great powers has waxed and waned, they have always been wary of each other and competed for power. The overriding goal of each country is to maximize its share of world power, which means that one country gains power at the expense of others."
It is also true historically that the Western powers, in the process of rising and competing for hegemony, have often fallen into the tragedy of great power competition, as summarized by the just-cited scholars. Rising states often initiate or engage in wars and provoke conflicts as a means of pursuing national interests. Great powers in history have risen through war. According to certain scholars, "Between 1815 and 1980, the United States participated in eight international wars in which more than 1,000 people died, and Russia participated in nineteen such wars."
The theoretical model of Thucydides’ trap has repeatedly been effective in explaining past conflicts in world history. The First World War ended the "century of peace" in European history that followed the Napoleonic Wars. Spilling the blood of millions of young people on the battlefield, Britain and France fought back against the challenge of Germany, an emerging empire that sought to overturn the European balance of power and compete for world domination. With the help of the United States, Britain, France, and their allies won World War I and reestablished the European order.
However, this order was forcibly imposed by the victorious powers and was not universally accepted by all countries. Twenty years later, Germany made a comeback, and a rising Japan took the opportunity to join the challenger’s camp, targeting Britain, France and the United States. Almost the entire world was drawn into the Second World War. Under the combined efforts of the world's Anti-Fascist League, Germany, Japan and their allies who had started the war were defeated, but Britain and France were severely weakened. The United States and the Soviet Union played an important role in the Second World War, saving the traditional European powers and liberating the continent so that it could rebuild itself from the ruins of war. With the end of World War II, the modern hegemony of Europe came to an end, and the two superpowers outside the core of Europe—a non-traditional European country, the Soviet Union, and the United States, far away in the North America, began to dominate the world.
The traditional European powers, such as Britain and France, were relegated to a "supporting role" on the world stage, Europe was divided into East and West, becoming the front line of the Cold War confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. The two great powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, were engaged in an all-out confrontation in the fields of politics, economics, culture, security and ideology for half a century. The United States and the Soviet Union were caught in the Thucydides trap until the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
For a long time after the end of the Cold War, the United States was in a position of supremacy, with no challengers. After the international financial crisis in 2008, the strength of the United States and Western countries experienced a relative decline, while in 2010 China became the world's second largest economy and, since 2014, like the United States, a great power with a gross domestic product (GDP) of more than 10 trillion US dollars. China and the United States have worked together to address the international financial crisis, defeat Ebola and fight terrorism, but since Trump assumed the presidency, he has made the rise of China the source of America's problems.
Trump's chief economic adviser, Peter Navarro, published a book in 2011 called Death by China: Confronting the Dragon - A Global Call to Action. The book devotes a lot of space to discussing the need to "overhaul the current China-dominated world supply chain," arguing that many of the World Trade Organization's provisions are outdated and no longer beneficial to the United States, and that the U.S. job market is being destroyed. Trump admired this man and appointed him as the chairman of the newly established National Trade Commission.
In addition, Trump also appointed a group of China hardliners. The growing economic and trade friction between China and the U.S., the fierce geo-strategic competition, and the deepening of mutual strategic suspicions, only seem to validate the Thucydides trap theory. It is true that the United States has come to regard China as its most important competitor, but that does not mean that China and the United States will eventually engage in war or other forms of all-out conflict and confrontation. There is a Chinese proverb that says: “the clap of a single hand makes no noise 一个巴掌拍不响” and China will not confront the United States. China wants to take a new path of peaceful rise. The idea of the Thucydides trap does not fit the times. Therefore, China has to convey its own words to the world and change the stubborn way of thinking of some people.
The Thucydides Trap Does not Apply to China
Past great power relations fell into the Thucydides trap because the rising powers were dissatisfied with the established international order and became challengers, thus causing conflicts between the rising powers and the established powers. Many people are used to seeing China in this way, as a second Soviet Union and a challenger to the current international order. Some people also believe that the end of the process of power transfer between the rising power and the defensive power lies in the success of the rising power in building an international order centered on itself.
From the perspective of foreign policy theory and practice, China does not challenge the existing international order, which is a substantial difference between China and the Soviet Union, as well as between China and other late-developing powers in history. Xi Jinping has stressed: “In modern times, the Chinese people have suffered a century of foreign invasions and internal wars, and are well aware of the value of peace, and the greatest need for nation-building is a peaceful environment to continuously improve people's lives.
China will unswervingly follow the path of peaceful development, and is committed to promoting open development, cooperative development, and win-win development, while at the same time calling on all countries to jointly follow the path of peaceful development. China has always pursued a defensive national defense policy, does not pursue arms races, and does not pose a military threat to any country. China's development and growth will bring more opportunities to the world, not threats. The Chinese dream that we want to realize will not only benefit the Chinese people, but the people of all countries."
This is indeed the truth. China's development and the resolution of the problem of poverty have made a great contribution to the cause of development and poverty reduction in the world. China's contribution to the world economy exceeds that of the United States. In the global fight against the pandemic, China's medical aid to countries around the world has played an important role in their fight against the coronavirus. Therefore, it is not proper to use Western international relations theories to view China's rise. More than 70 years after the end of the Second World War, the rule-based framework of international order has created an era of no war between major powers, what historians call a rare “long peace”.
“The existing international order is the most institutionalized and the most internalized international order in human history. The institutions of the existing international order cover most of the areas in which countries interact with each other and has become part of how countries think. In view of this, the existing international order will continue its trend of global expansion. The rise of Trump and right-wing forces in Europe can slow down, but not stop or reverse this trend. China is a beneficiary of the current international system with the United Nations at its core, and is also its strong supporter and defender.
On September 22, 2015, during his visit to the United States, Xi Jinping noted that "China is a participant in, a builder of, and a contributor to the current international system. We resolutely uphold the international order and system with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter as the core. Many countries in the world, especially developing countries, hope that the international system will develop in a more just and reasonable direction, but this is not to overthrow it, nor to start anew, but to advance with the times, to reform and improve. This is in the common interest of all countries of the world and of all humanity."
What China seeks is not to challenge the basic institutions of the established international order, but to make incremental changes through cooperation and consultation that will be acceptable to all countries and can bring benefits to developing countries. China's "One Belt, One Road" initiative and the initiative to establish the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank are open, transparent and inclusive, and "aim to support the common development of all countries, not to seek political spheres of influence. We actively promote the process of regional economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region and promote the realization of the goal of an Asia-Pacific Free Trade Area, so as to promote the formation of a free and open, dynamic Asia-Pacific development space."
The report of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China also stressed that "the dreams of the Chinese people are closely linked to the dreams of the people of other countries, and the realization of the Chinese dream cannot be achieved without a peaceful international environment and a stable international order". China "has always been a builder of world peace, a contributor to global development and a protector of the international order."
China recognizes and firmly upholds the existing international order with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter at its core. Some people believe that "the basic feature of the international order after the end of the Cold War has been the dominance of Western values, Western-developed international norms and international institutions. Generally, Westerners refer to this order as the liberal internationalist order. In short, the political pillars of liberal internationalism are Western liberal democracy and multilateral diplomacy; the economic pillars are market economy, free trade and dominance of the dollar; the military pillars are the U.S. military hegemonic position, its network of allies and its determination to preserve this order by force; and the ideological pillars are Wilsonianism and its philosophical foundation, Western liberalism."
This view is not really correct. Although the current international order was constructed around the end of Second World War under the leadership of powerful countries such as the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, it should not be discredited for this reason. World War II, unlike the World War I, was historically progressive. The international order established after the World War II was based on the UN Charter, the starting point of which is the idea of preventing another world war, advocating respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries and the peaceful settlement of conflicts and disputes among them.
China, as the main force in the victory over Japanese fascism in World War II, also participated in the construction of this international order and became a permanent member of the UN Security Council. China's accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001 marked its full participation in the international order and the international system established after World War II. China’s rise has been achieved under this order, China’s rapid development was largely due to China’s integration into the world economic system after reform and opening and China’s successful use of both international and domestic resources as well as both markets. The free trade regime is an important aspect of the postwar international order, and the World Trade Organization, which grew out of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, is at its core. It can be said that China is more committed than ever to free trade, and it is the United States, which has led the establishment of this order, that began to doubt it and began to build tariff barriers.
Of course, the current international order does not fully reflect the changes in the international power balance and requires gradual reform; such reform, however, will be decided not by China, but by all countries through consultation and on an equal footing. Xi Jinping emphasizes that, “Countries, big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, are equal members of the international community and deserve to participate in decision-making, enjoy rights, and fulfill obligations on an equal basis. Emerging market countries and developing countries should be given more representation and voice.”
The 2010 International Monetary Fund (IMF) quotas reform program has taken effect and this momentum should be maintained. We must uphold multiculturalism and maintain the authority and effectiveness of the multilateral system. We must fulfill our promises and abide by the rules, and we must not take or choose according to our own wishes. Great powers have a special responsibility to maintain the international free trade order, and China is a firm defender of the current international economic order.
China's peaceful development cannot be separated from world peace and stability, and the common development of all countries. China is firmly committed to being a builder and defender of regional and world peace, and is committed to mutually beneficial and win-win cooperation among nations, making China's national rejuvenation and state strength fundamentally different from the traditional rise of great powers. China's path of peaceful development is not a matter of expediency, let alone diplomatic rhetoric, but a conclusion drawn from an objective judgment of history, current reality and the future, an organic unity of ideological self-confidence and self-conscious practice.
The path of peaceful development is good for China and good for the world, and we cannot conceive of any reason not to adhere to this path that has been proven to work in practice. "Adherence to the road of peaceful development is not only written into the reports of the 17th, 18th and 19th National Congresses of the Communist Party of China, but is also enshrined in the Party Constitution of the Communist Party of China and the Constitution of the People's Republic of China.”
No matter how the international situation changes, "China will continue to pursue an independent and peaceful foreign policy, unswervingly follow the path of peaceful development, and develop friendly and cooperative relations with other countries on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence." True socialism is peaceful socialism. China's determination to follow the path of peaceful development is determined by China's national nature and by the peace-loving tradition of the Chinese nation, a path we have chosen that is in line with trends of world development.”
The biggest challenge to China's development comes from the United States. Trump visited China in November 2017 and a little over a month after his return the United States released its first National Security Strategy Report since taking office, arguing that the United States faces growing competition from Russia and China, and that the two competitors "seek to challenge U.S. influence and values." This National Security Strategy Report shows that the United States is shifting its national security focus from fighting terrorism to countering the military power of China and Russia.
In the January 2018 State of the Union address, Trump stated that China poses a comprehensive challenge to the interests, economy and values of the United States. In June 2018, FBI Director Christopher Wray noted that while Russia still requires an active U.S. response, China is the broadest, most challenging, and most serious threat to the United States. In October 2018, Vice President Mike Pence gave a speech at the Hudson Institute, a U.S. think tank, arguing that "China is more active than ever in using its power to influence and intervene in U.S. domestic policy and politics." The passage of the so-called "Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act" and the "Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act" by the U.S. Congress in 2019 demonstrates that the U.S. views China as a major strategic competitor, and the U.S. has since implemented many policies that are detrimental to China's development.
On the evening of October 17, 2019, John Mearsheimer and Tsinghua University Professor Yan Xuetong (b. 1952) debated the topic of "Managing U.S.-China Strategic Competition" at Tsinghua University. What is certain, Mearsheimer said, is that the United States is waging a technological war, a war over who dominates the field of information technology. He said: “I think 'Made in China 2025' is really making the United States highly nervous, not only people in the U.S. government, but also a lot of Americans in the technology sector too. It makes Americans think that the Chinese are going to 'beat' the U.S. in the field of technology. I don't think the Americans are going to allow that to happen, because they want to maintain their dominance in the technology field."
Mearsheimer’s view is somewhat representative and still reflects Cold War thinking. As a great power, it is natural for China to develop its own high-tech industry and strive to climb to the peak of science and technology, which is both a response to China's development needs and a contribution to human development. The results of China's exploration of the mysteries of space and the deep seas, and the promotion of the development of a new generation of information and communication technologies represented by 5G, are not exclusive to China. It is the competition and exchange between the great powers that drives the progress of science and technology. China does not regard the United States as a rival. Xi Jinping emphasized, "Although there are some differences between China and the United States, the interests of both sides are highly intertwined and the areas of cooperation are broad, and they should not fall into the trap of so-called conflict and confrontation, but should promote each other and develop together."
In 2019, the combined GDP of China and the United States reached 35 trillion US dollars, accounting for more than 40% of the world's GDP. The confrontation between China and the United States will not only endanger the interests of the two countries, but will also have a great negative impact on the development of the world economy. When meeting with foreign representatives attending the 2019 New Economy Forum, Xi Jinping said: "Today, the Chinese people are full of confidence and will unswervingly follow this path. We put forward the Chinese dream of realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, but this dream is by no means a 'hegemonic dream'. We are not preparing to replace anyone, but simply to restore China to its rightful dignity and position. We have made brilliant achievements, but we will not be arrogant and bossy in the world. Instead, we will continue to uphold the traditional concept of ‘harmony without uniformity 和而不同’, adhere to the path of peaceful development, and devote ourselves to developing mutually beneficial cooperation with all countries in the world.” Therefore, the United States' view that the point of China's rise is to replace the United States as the leading country in the Asia-Pacific region and the world is untenable.
In the era of globalization, China and the United States will face many global problems in the future that will be difficult to solve alone. The two countries should be able to find compromises in the process of solving global problems, seek cooperation, and avoid fierce confrontation. After the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, China promptly notified the World Health Organization and the United States of the outbreak and expressed its desire to cooperate with the United States. In a phone call with President Trump on March 27, 2020, Xi Jinping said, "I am very concerned and worried about the development of the epidemic in the United States, and I also note that Mr. President is taking a series of policy initiatives. The Chinese people sincerely hope that the United States will promptly control the spread of the epidemic and reduce the losses the epidemic may cause the American people. China has always taken a positive attitude toward the development of international cooperation in prevention and control. Under current circumstances, China and the United States should unite to fight the epidemic.”
“At present, Sino-US relations are at an important juncture. Cooperation between China and the United States will benefit both, struggle will hurt both, and cooperation is the only correct choice. We hope that the United States will take substantive actions to improve Sino-US relations, and that the two sides will work together to strengthen cooperation in areas such as combating the epidemic as well as develop a relationship based on no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.” China and the United States are the world's largest developing country and the largest developed country, respectively. Whether the U.S. side recognizes it or not, the relationship between China and the United States is a new type of relationship, unlike any pair of great powers in history. History depends on people's choices. As for the idea that China and the United States will fall into the Thucydides trap, the Chinese will never make this choice, and I think probably that the Americans won’t either.
China's Advocacy of a New Type of Great Power Relationship between China and the United States is in Line with the Trends of the Times
The reality of globalization in today's world has closely linked China and the United States. Some people with extremist views in the United States believe that as long as pressure is put on China, and the tariffs on Chinese goods entering the United States are raised, then manufacturing will return to the United States. This is not the case. The U.S. tariff ‘big stick’ hurts not only China but also the United States. China's imports of agricultural products from the United States decreased to 16.23 billion US dollars in 2018, a year-on-year decrease of 32.7%.
According to statistics from the General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China, China-US trade figures fell across the board in 2019. China-US imports and exports totaled 541.2 billion US dollars, a decrease of 14.6% from 2018. Among them, exports were 418.5 billion US dollars, a decrease of 12.5%, and imports were 122.7 billion US dollars, a decrease of 20.9. %. In the first half of 2020, the total trade value between China and the United States was 1.64 trillion yuan, a year-on-year decrease of 6.6%, of which exports to the United States were 1.25 trillion yuan, a decrease of 8.1%, and imports from the United States were 395.62 billion yuan, a decrease of 1.5%, and the trade surplus was 8517.4 billion yuan, a decrease of 10.8%. In the first half of 2020, ASEAN passed the EU and the United States to become China's largest trading partner. Although trade between China and the United States has declined, bilateral trade between China and the U.S. is still the highest among China's bilateral trade with individual countries.
At the same time, the vast majority of US investors in China do not wish to see their industries return to the Unites States. As Xi Jinping has emphasized: "The modern economy and modern technology have made the world one body The interests of China and the United States have become more intertwined, and there will be some differences in cooperation between the two sides. As long as the two sides always cling to the mainstream position of mutual benefit and win-win Sino-US economic and trade cooperation, and always respect each other’s national dignity, sovereignty, and core interests, they will be able to overcome the difficulties that arise in moving forward, and promote the development of Sino-US economic and trade relations under new historical conditions, for the benefit of both countries and both peoples." The facts show that the U.S.-China trade war has not solved the problem of China's trade surplus with the United States, nor has it helped solve the problem of hollowing out of U.S. industries, but has instead affected U.S. exports to China. The confrontation between China and the United States is not in line with the reality of globalization in today's world, nor is it in the national interests of either country.
Today's competition between great powers is no longer dominated by the arms race or military victory in war, as it once was. The focus of competition between great powers has shifted from military expansion to economic and technological development. The ebb and flow of great powers is also a common phenomenon in history. If China and the United States continue at their current pace of development, China will, sooner or later, inevitably surpass the Unites States in terms of total economic output and be able to match it in areas such as artificial intelligence, communications, digital economy, and semiconductors.
But this does not mean that China will replace the United States as the world's hegemon. In today's technological conditions, it is no longer possible for any country to be in a position of absolute dominance. Today's competition among great powers covers political, economic, ideological and other fields. It is still a comprehensive competition, but it is no longer a relationship in which the rising powers replace the declining, defensive powers, but rather a relationship in which they learn from each other's strengths, jointly advance the progress of humanity, and jointly solve global problems that threaten our mutual survival, a relationship in which competition and cooperation coexist. Based on the grasp of this historical development trend, "China does not subscribe to the archaic logic that ‘the end point of national strength is hegemony’".
China wants to avoid the historical pattern of the rise of great powers and is determined to take a new path. Regarding the theory that China and the United States will fall into the Thucydides trap, Xi Jinping emphasized that there are a thousand reasons for Sino-US relations to get better, that there is no reason for them to get worse, and that the development of Sino-US relations requires strategic patience. “There is no such thing as a Thucydides trap. However, repeated strategic miscalculations by great powers could become their own Thucydides trap." "A healthy and stable development of China-US relations is not only in the fundamental interests of the two peoples, but also a common expectation of the international community. For China and the United States, cooperation is the only right choice, and a win-win situation will lead to a better future."
The Pacific Ocean is wide enough to accommodate the development of both China and the United States. The scale and speed of China's rise is rare in world history, but this rise and development have been achieved peacefully. In the history of the world, many great powers brought disasters to humanity during their rise, such as the slave trade, aggression and expansion, bullying of the weak by the strong, and so forth. China's development relies on doing good in the world, on the systemic advantage of concentrating efforts to do great things, and on policies that stimulate the enthusiasm of the people.
China advocates a balanced and inclusive development model. What China's development brings to the world is not turbulence and disaster, but an opportunity for common development. In the process of its development, China has stimulated the development of many other countries, and the Asia-Pacific region has become the most economically dynamic region in the world largely due to China's development. In his keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the 2017 annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, Xi Jinping proposed that "to make development more balanced, to make development opportunities more equal, and to share the fruits of development with everyone, we must improve the concept and model of development, and enhance the fairness, effectiveness, and synergy of development."
China opposes basing the world's long-term development on the growing wealth of one group of countries while another group of countries remains chronically poor and backward. Xi Jinping emphasized that "We advocate that all countries and all peoples should share in the fruits of development. While seeking its own development, each country must actively promote the common development of other countries. The long-term development of the world cannot be based on the growing wealth of one group of countries while another group of countries remains chronically poor and backward. Only when countries develop together can the world develop better. The practice of beggar-thy-neighbor, shifting a crisis to someone else, and harming others to benefit oneself is neither moral nor sustainable." China calls on all countries in the world to follow the trend of the times, choose the right development path, share the benefits of globalization, share the fruits of development and security, build lasting peace, and achieve sustainable development.
The development China advocates is not a kind of development where “everyone minds their own business”, beggars their neighbor or engages in development that harms others for one’s personal benefit, but an inclusive development, advocating that countries should actively promote the development of the world while seeking their own development. Xi Jinping has particularly stressed that "the sky is big enough, the earth is big enough, and the world is big enough to accommodate the common development and prosperity of all countries. It is an unsustainable situation that some countries are getting richer, while others remain chronically poor and backward.
A rising tide lifts all boats; when water flows in small rivers, big rivers are also filled; only when prosperity is universal does everyone prosper. While pursuing their own development, countries should actively promote the common development of other countries, so that the fruits of development can better benefit people of all countries. We should jointly maintain and develop an open world economy, jointly promote strong, sustainable and balanced growth of the world economy, promote trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, adhere to open regional cooperation, oppose all forms of protectionism, and oppose any intentions and practices of beggar-thy-neighbor and putting the crisis off on someone else."
In the process of development, China attaches importance to promoting South-South cooperation and North-South dialogue, enhancing the capacity of developing countries to develop on their own, urging developed countries to assume more responsibilities, striving to narrow the gap between the North and the South, establishing a new type of global development partnership that is more equal and balanced, and strengthening the foundation for the long-term stable development of the world economy.
On June 28, 2018, the Chinese government published a White Paper on "China and the World Trade Organization,” in which it stated that: “Since its accession to the WTO, China has actively implemented the concept of free trade, comprehensively fulfilled its accession commitments, substantially opened its markets, delivered broad mutually beneficial and win-win outcomes, and demonstrated its role as a great power in opening up to the outside world. The multilateral trading system, with the WTO at its core, is the cornerstone of international trade and underpins the sound and orderly development of global trade. China firmly observes and upholds the WTO rules, and supports the multilateral trading system that is open, transparent, inclusive and non-discriminatory. China has participated in all aspects of WTO work, made its voice heard and contributed its own proposals on improving global economic governance. China is an active participant, strong supporter and major contributor in the multilateral trading system. Accession to the WTO has boosted China’s development and benefited the rest of the world. Propelled by a new vision of development, the Chinese economy is transitioning from rapid growth to high-quality development. China has become a major stabilizer and driving force for the world economy. China stays committed to the strategy of opening-up for win-win results, vigorously promotes the Belt and Road Initiative, and shares opportunities and benefits with other countries and their people while developing China itself, enhancing global wellbeing and common prosperity.”
China's development has not only solved the livelihood problems of 1.4 billion people, but has also helped the development of many countries and peoples around the world. "From 1950 to 2016, despite its own long-term level of development and the low standard of living of its people, China provided a cumulative total of more than 400 billion yuan in foreign aid, implemented more than 5,000 foreign aid projects of all kinds, including nearly 3,000 complete projects, held more than 11,000 training courses, and trained more than 260,000 personnel of all kinds in China for developing countries. Since reform and opening, China has attracted more than 1.7 trillion US dollars in foreign investment and over 1.2 trillion US dollars in foreign direct investment, making a huge contribution to the development of the world economy.
Since the outbreak of the international financial crisis, China's economic growth has contributed to world economic growth at an annual rate of over 30%. These numbers are among the highest in the world.” “We can see from these numbers that China's development is an opportunity for the world. China is a beneficiary of economic globalization, but also a contributor. China's rapid economic growth has provided a continued strong boost to global economic stability and growth. China's joint development with a large number of countries has made the global economic development more balanced. China's tremendous achievements in poverty reduction have made global economic growth more inclusive. China's continued reform and opening has provided an important impetus for the development of an open world economy."
In today's world, countries are increasingly connected economically, cultural exchanges are developing day by day, and the need to jointly address global challenges is increasing. In the context of this era, the Sino-US relationship today is completely different from the US-Soviet relationship in the past, and should be neither an alliance nor a confrontational relationship. With China and the United States accounting for 40 percent of the world's economy and a quarter of the world's population, the future of the world depends largely on how the two powers get along. China and the United States share common interests in many areas, including combating terrorism, preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, countering transnational crime, and preventing the spread of epidemics.
The economies of China and the United States are at different levels of the global industrial chain and are highly complementary, forming an interconnected whole 你中有我，我中有你, and so it is entirely a fool’s dream when some people from the United States advocate the decoupling of the US and Chinese economies. China and the United States can only seek consensus, can only pursue win-win situations, and will eventually build a new type of great power relationship different from the traditional great powers in history, based on no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation. The United States is about to hold new presidential elections. Whether Trump is re-elected or Biden is elected, Sino-US relations cannot go back to the past, but must look to the future, find a new strategic consensus and develop a new type of major power relationship.
Some Final Thoughts
Judging from the current state of Sino-US relations and the views of various circles in the United States, the Thucydides trap theory still captures a certain market share. The attacks of Mike Pompeo and others on China's social system are not based on China's reality, but on their own long-held views of Soviet-style socialism. Right-wing politicians in the United States do not accept the "new type of great power relationship" and still employ a Cold War mentality to handle relations with China.
From our Chinese perspective, it is the American side that has the advantage of having the last word on the international scene about issues related to Sino-US relations. We still have a long way to go to get the world to accept our ideas and embrace Chinese concepts. In this regard, we need to have a clear understanding and at the same time take care of our own business properly. As the adage says, “Neither the peach tree nor the plum tree speaks, and yet the path to the people’s favorite appears naturally.” As long as we assume the responsibilities of a great power and carry out the responsibilities of a great power, many things in the international arena will work themselves out.
The power to speak on the international scene needs be supported by national strength. In view of the development of the world today, Xi Jinping's proposal to build a new type of great power relationship is undoubtedly in line with the needs of the times and with world trends. One reason that people disagree with this proposition and cling to the traditional view of great power relations, apart from the inherent prejudices of the Westerners, is the fact that China's strength is inferior to that of the United States. Trump governs the country on Twitter and often makes unreliable remarks, but he receives worldwide attention, and one important reason for this is that the United States is powerful.
The words and actions of United States leaders directly affect the international situation and the external environment of many countries, so much so that even their relationship with the United States affects the international status of some countries. Despite the poor performance of the United States in responding to the pandemic, with the highest number of infections and deaths in the world, the United States is still in a position of strength and the dynamics of the world landscape have not fundamentally changed.
When the 2020 Nobel Prizes were announced, the United States remained the country with the most prize-winners. The United States still has the world's most advanced technology and top-notch talent, a superb military, and a vast alliance system (although undermined by Trump, it is still functioning) and a powerful media. In the short term the United States will remain the world's number one power, giving it the confidence to continue to blow its own horn. The power to speak on the international scene needs be informed by philosophy and social science.
Allison's Thucydides trap theory is based on his team's research on the changes in power hegemony in the world over the past 500 years. According to their study, 12 of the 16 pairs of the relationships between the defensive and rising powers have ended in war, therefore the probability of a war between the defensive and rising powers is high, which means that the probability of conflict or even a war between China and the United States is quite high.
Although their research ignores the changes of the times, it does have a certain academic foundation after all, and so is valued by academic and political circles. China's proposal to build a new type of great power relationship with the Unites States and its belief that China and the United States can avoid the Thucydides trap also requires in-depth academic research. To examine whether there are patterns in the relations between great powers that have successfully avoided the Thucydides trap in history and whether such a pattern exists in the relations between China and the United States today; to examine how the relationship between the defensive and rising powers is different in the era of globalization, and whether this can become a constraint on conflict; to study the constraints of modern scientific and technological development on the relationship between the defensive and rising powers and the limited nature of the conflict. History is the result of human choices, and how leaders of great powers choose paths more conducive to their countries' development and avoid the path of war and conflict are also key factors. All these issues need to be studied in depth in combination with history and contemporary reality.
As we attempt to spread Chinese discourse in the international community, we should place more emphasis on China's flexibility. The success of socialism with Chinese characteristics has indeed provided late-developing countries with a development model that can be used for reference purposes. The report of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China pointed out that “Socialism with Chinese characteristics entering a new era means that the Chinese nation, which since modern times had endured so much for so long, has achieved a tremendous transformation: it has stood up, grown rich, and is becoming strong; it has come to embrace the brilliant prospects of rejuvenation.
It means that scientific socialism is full of vitality in 21st century China, and that the banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics is now flying high and proud for all to see. It means that the path, the theory, the system, and the culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics have kept developing, blazing a new trail for other developing countries to achieve modernization. It offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence; and it offers Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach to solving the problems facing mankind.”
However, we also want to emphasize that China will not force other countries to accept its own model, as many countries have done throughout history, and that "we do not 'import' foreign models, nor do we 'export' Chinese models, and we will not ask other countries to 'copy' China's practices." China's peaceful rise is itself a new phenomenon in the rise of great powers in world history. China is not like the United States, which was virtually identical to Great Britain [when it achieved great power status], nor is like the Soviet Union, a country completely different from capitalist powers, and even less is China like Germany and Japan, who attempted to seize development space by force like during in the Second World War.
China's development and strength mainly depend on China’s seizing the opportunity of industrial transfer from developed countries, the use of the resources of the international community; it relies on the hard work and determination of the Chinese people and the benign interaction between China and the world. Therefore, China's development and power broaden the base of common interests among powerful countries, will not bring about confrontation or even war among great powers, but will be conducive to world peace and prosperity. It will take work to make these truths clear.
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