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Reigning the Future

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A very measured and compelling account of the current uncomfortable relationship between the two behemoths, United States and China.

Synopsis

Reigning the Future is an informative overview of US-China relations in regards to the ever-evolving tech world. With the relationship between these two superpowers at the forefront of international news, author Dennis Wang looks to inform readers through expert interviews and in-depth analyses about the mounting tensions between the two superpowers.

Wang discusses the technological rivalry between the United States and China, analyzing great-power political competition and its connections with business and innovation. He believes the modern bilateral relationship between the two countries is one of the most significant challenges of the century and uses his research to prove that point and offers insight into navigating these unique times.

Through his personal experiences with companies like Huawei Technologies and China Central Television, as well as his studies at Duke University, Wang provides unique perspectives and in-depth analyses on this topic. Reigning the Future will appeal to everyone from tech students to business leaders and policymakers.

At the time of this writing, when the whole world is coming to grips or at least trying to, with the raging pandemic that is COVID-19, the United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo has upped the ante by alleging that China lied on both the origin of the virus as well as its transmissible capability. As may be expected, China has aggressively issued a riposte. This simmering confrontation coming on the back of an already roiling trade and tariffs dispute, demonstrates not only the thin ice which the two behemoths may be treading on, but also the unintended consequences of any aberration on the world.


Dennis Wang, in his measured and compelling book, "Reigning The Future", brings to bear his experience of academia at Duke University and employment with mega corporations such as Huawei and China Central Television, to underscore the nuances and intricacies characterising this tense and somewhat terse relationship. Using a theory termed 'The Thucydides Trap", Mr. Wang offers his unbiased views on the Sino-US relationship. This term popularised by Graham Allison in a book by the same name, refers to a situation when one great power threatens to displace another, war is almost always the result -- but it doesn’t have to be.


Both China and the US are economic and military giants. One country is seeking to recapture what it terms is its 'rightful' place on the Planet, thereby seeking to obliterate the scars of a 'Century of Humiliation'. Standing in its path is a hegemony which since the culmination of World War II has progressed to become the most formidable country in the world. It is the quintessential American Dream v The Resurgence of China.


As Mr. Wang reveals, while both these nations are inextricably tied up in a maze of economic and political dealings, they still tend to view one another with an unhealthy mix of mutual suspicion and distrust. As Mr. Wang illustrates, "....the barring of Chinese companies by the United States is only a natural move. While companies such as DJI and Huawei can promise that they will never compromise the information of its users, there is no technical challenge in theoretically gathering and using the knowledge of its users for nefarious purposes...."


"Reigning The Future" is a handy primer for all those who wish to understand the trajectory of Sino-US relationship and its impact on the new Global Order.

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Maniacal penchant for books, more books, still more books and lot more books! An inveterate, impossible and incorrigible bibliophile who blogs on books with a vengeance!

Synopsis

Reigning the Future is an informative overview of US-China relations in regards to the ever-evolving tech world. With the relationship between these two superpowers at the forefront of international news, author Dennis Wang looks to inform readers through expert interviews and in-depth analyses about the mounting tensions between the two superpowers.

Wang discusses the technological rivalry between the United States and China, analyzing great-power political competition and its connections with business and innovation. He believes the modern bilateral relationship between the two countries is one of the most significant challenges of the century and uses his research to prove that point and offers insight into navigating these unique times.

Through his personal experiences with companies like Huawei Technologies and China Central Television, as well as his studies at Duke University, Wang provides unique perspectives and in-depth analyses on this topic. Reigning the Future will appeal to everyone from tech students to business leaders and policymakers.

International Forces

ONE CENTURY AGO TODAY


Only rats, mud, stench, and death existed on the battlefield. Diseased and deprived of sleep, the glorious war that these boys had once dreamed of resulted in no more than perpetual fear. They longed for a warm meal for it could be their last. Polishing their weapons nervously, the young men passed the time in the shadow of impending cataclysm. The belligerents dug rows of trenches on the eastern theater, but the first ones were the most dangerous. Thousands subsisted in these abysmal conditions with sickness claiming the lives of more than those who dared wander into the no-man's land. These walking corpses were haunted day and night by the menace of sudden death.

 

 Shortly after Serbian nationalists assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in 1914, all hell broke loose. Within two months, Europe divided itself into two camps: The Triple Entente (led by Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Italy) and The Allies (Great Britain, Russia, and France).[1] Young men bid fair-well to their families in search of glory and camaraderie, eager to serve their nation in what British statesman Herbert Henry Asquith once characterized as "an obligation of honor which no self-respecting man could possibly have repudiated.”[2]

 

As they left their homes, the soldiers anticipated a quick and glorious war. However, the bloodshed between 1914 and 1918 would become one of the most brutal conflicts Europe had ever known, claiming the lives of twenty million.[3] Soldiers lucky enough to survive returned to their homes disoriented and disillusioned as the lost generation of the 20th century, mere silhouettes of their former selves. 

 

How did this conflict snowball into such large proportions? Long before the war, vital forces were already at play in the international political system. The start of the First World War had been shaped by the changing power structure between countries in Europe leading up to the conflict.

 

A hundred years before the archduke's assassination, Napoleon Bonaparte and his legendary Grande Armée trampled across the continent but was cut short at Waterloo. The conclusion of the Napoleonic wars would prove seminal in defining the political norms before the First World War. European heads of state, in response to Napoleon's defeat, assembled at the Congress of Vienna. There, they devised a new political order to define peace and cooperation in the post-war world.

 

The delegates, through working groups, banquets, and balls, negotiated a new status-quo characterized by a balance of power between states. They redrew borders, created buffer-zones between countries, and formed alliances to curtail states from gaining hegemonic power in Europe. They believe that they can maintain peace by distributing power between countries so that no single country would be incentivized to take military action against another. Effectively, states are kept in check by their relative strength, enabling peace and cooperation.[4]

 

Though the Congress of Vienna redefined the international power structure, it did not alleviate the tensions that continued to exist through to the First World War. Europe was a bonfire ready to be set ablaze. Powers existed in a state of fragile co-existence tensions and distrust. Domestically, sentiments of nationalism and militarism bloomed throughout Europe, increasing the antagonism and suspicion between countries. During this time of unbounded national ambition, states engaged in a game of military one-upmanship. The Austrians feared the Russians; the Russians feared the British; and, the British feared the Germans.[5] Each country began to modernize, increasing the size of its militaries in response to one-another, unraveling the balance of power established at the Congress of Vienna.


SIMILARITIES


Today's world looks ominously similar to the prelude to the conflicts that struck Europe in the early 20th century. It is characterized by changes in the balance of power, increasing nationalism, and the development of game-changing technologies:

·     Balance of Power: American unipolarity is waning in the world, and there are resurgent countries across the globe growing economically. Among the rising countries is China, which threatens to tip the balance of influence from the West to the East, drawing discontent and worry from Western policymakers. The country’s rise has even been described by former White House strategist Steve Bannon as a “existential” threat to the United States.[6]

·     Nationalism: Statesmen are also championing attitudes that are strikingly similar to popular discourse of the pre-First World War world — one of populism, nationalism, and romanticization of national prestige. Donald Trump and Xi Jinping are salient examples, both pledging to return the United States and China to a presupposed state of former national glory

·     New Technology: Today, the world is also developing new technologies at a dizzying pace. Countries like the United States, China, and Russia are developing next-generation fighter jets, nuclear delivery vehicles, and cyber capabilities. The landscape of war indeed looks incredibly different than 1917. Instead of new technologies like the tank, machine gun, or poison gas, the world is also experiencing a new type of warfare.

 

Balance of Power

 

Like the start of the First World War, today's world is characterized by new spheres of influence as result of the shifting balance of power. China is becoming an ever increasingly assertive country internationally, supported by its ballooning military and economic capabilities. The United States, therefore, has less and less control over China's actions in specific parts of the world. Much like Germany’s rise vis a vis Great Britain, China’s economic rise compared to the United States is disconcerting.

 

As countries begin to develop their own spheres of influence and threatens the pre-eminent position of a powerful country, flash points can become more prevalent.[7] An area with a high propensity for Thucydidian conflict is the South China Sea, where experts believe that China already has enough of a military foothold to prevail against the United States.[8] The United States’ predominant position as the world superpower is waning, and countries like China are able to enforce their own authority that the United States will suffer prohibitive costs to defend. Much like the assasination of Archduke Ferdinand, a simple spark can ignite war. In the South China Sea, for example, a military error (say, the collision of ships) can bring the United States and China into military conflict.[9] Areas such as the South China Sea — where spheres of influence intersect — are ripe ground for conflict.

 

One may argue that since the end of the Second World War, the creation of supranational organizations such as the United Nations have decreased the likelihood of war. However, history will tell us that both the United States and China have violated international laws to protect their spheres of influence. The United States, going against international law, carried out its invasion of Grenada in 1983 to solidify its control over the Caribbean. Similarly, China has continued its military expansion in the South Sea despite losing a case settled by the International Court at the Hague regarding the UN Law of the Sea. Other events in history also point to the downfall of international institutions such as the start of the Korean War (due to Soviet boycott of the UN Security Council) and the start of the First World War (failure of the League of Nations). 

 

Thus, despite popular belief, countries are not necessarily constrained by international norms — the national interest and relative power takes central importance in decision-making. This lack of respect for supranational institutions harkens back to the Concert of Europe, which was created by the world powers after the fall of Napoleon as a mechanism to foster international peace and the balance of power. The Concert of Europe was designed by the European countries as a mechanism to curtail conflict. However, when the constraints become inconsistent with the reality of power relations, it becomes ineffective, deteriorating as Europe descends into world war.

 

In the future, as countries rise around the world and U.S. influence wanes, we will see greater intersections of spheres of influence, creating more uncertainty around conflicts. Indeed, in addition to the rise of China, other countries around the world are rising economically, threatening to displace the economic status of traditional countries in the West. Collectively known as the BRICS countries, these countries include Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Political scientists claim that as countries around the world becomes more powerful, we are moving from a world of unipolarity — dominated by U.S. influence — to a world characterized by multipolarity — a world with many sources of influence across geographic areas.[10] Will our multipolar world, similar to the multipolar European world before the First World War, be the source of another great conflict?

 

Indeed, we are already seeing diminishing U.S. influence at key international forums. U.S. President Donald Trump is using the “America First” model, backing out of treaties such as the Paris Climate Agreement, UNESCO, NAFTA, among others, and is threatening to undermine its solidarity with its traditional European allies in NATO. It was countries’ lack of participation in international institutions that set the stage for the First and Second World War. As the world becomes multipolar and the United States increasingly fixated on “containing” the “China Threat,” the future of international relations is truly unstable.[11]

 

Despite international economic integration, conflict may still be inevitable. The world before the First World War was also globalized, with European imperial domains spanning across the world. Despite globalization, war might be more favorable for the reigning economic hegemon.[12] Between 1905 and 1908, the British Admiralty contemplated using its centrality in the world financial system to inflict damage on rivals — namely, Germany and the United States — that are threatening to displace British power.[13] One can parallel this attitude with the U.S. attitude in the 21st century, with the United States accusing China of economic malpractices, initiating what in the media has been called the “Trade War.” Similar to the First World War, conflict in today’s multipolar world may prove disastrous. 

 

Military Advancements

 

Fritz Haber was a prominent German chemist during the First World War. Growing up exceptionally gifted, he entered the world of academics much contrary to the will of his parents. Little did they know that this decision would send ripples throughout the world. It was him who would introduce to the world poison gas, first used against the Allies at the Battle of Ypres during the First World War.

 

As a British chemist once reflected, “a casualty from gunfire may be dying from his wounds, but they don’t give him the sensation that his life is being strangled out of him.[14] During this time of unbounded national ambition, Germany was experiencing a newfound interest in the natural sciences. Haber entered his professional life during this prime time, making many contributions to the world of science—and, ultimately winning the Nobel Prize in 1918 for synthesizing ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen gas.[15] With modernizing technology, the range of human conflict has increased. During the First World War, Haber’s innovation of the poison gas was thought to be a war-winning weapon by the Germans, completely undermining the traditional defenses of their adversaries.[16]

 

During Haber’s time, other technologies such as the machine gun, poison gas, and armored tanks also changed the way wars were fought forever. The physical landscape of war evolved one characterized by attrition warfare, as these technologies gave belligerents a defensive advantage—each side dug deeper and deeper into their trenches. In the 21st century, technologies continue to change the world. Albert Einstein may be correct in his omen of “I know not with what weapons WWIII Will be fought, but WWIV will be fought with sticks and stones.” Today, cyber-attacks can cripple entire networks and countries have already stockpiled amounts of nuclear weapons that can destroy our world many times over. Indeed, we might not live to the fourth world war after the third.

 

The development of technology increases a country’s hard power, tipping the balance of power in its favor. Haber’s introduction of chemical warfare during the First World War gave the Germans an advantage, and this use of poison gas was soon also utilized by the Allies during the conflict. Today, there exists an arms race between the most powerful nations of the world. In the 2018 American Nuclear Posture, the U.S. government supported modernization of its nuclear arms, in response to the Russian improvements in its nuclear arsenal. Not only will the United States be modernizing its nuclear force but it will also develop small-scale tactical nuclear weapons in response to the Russian threat.[17] 

 

Between China and the United States, there also exists a technological competition in the 21st century. China is becoming the world leader in research, technology, and innovation, already submitting more patents each year than the United States. The technological development of this Asian giant has inspired insecurity in the United States, prompting a hawkish attitude in both the Democrats and Republicans.

 

The changing balance of power brought by technological development is causing tectonic shifts in the international power structure, moving us towards a world where there is no clear center of gravity. Currently, the United States claims the pre-eminent position in the world as a powerhouse of military and R&D spending. However, in the near future, our world may move into a state of multipolarity while each country develops technologically, creating a world that is more prone to conflict—similar to the multipolar of the world during the First World War.

 

During that time, countries armed with new technologies, bought into the illusion that there was an offensive advantage in war, with advantage to the side that attacks first. With new technologies today, a similar case might occur, destabilizing the world. 

 

Nationalism

 

Similar to 1914, today's world is also characterized by domestic ambition, nationalism, and populism exhibited throughout the world. We have populist leaders and nationalist leaders who are leading some of the world's most powerful nations. From Donald Trump to Xi Jinping, Shinzo Abe, Narendra Modi, the list goes on. These nations want to return their countries back to their former glories, appealing to the great masses of their countries who have felt disenfranchised from the ever-interconnected international system.

 

The Nobel scientist Haber, among other prominent thinkers of his time, facilitated the dissemination of German wartime propaganda, supported by the nation’s grand illusions and its aggressive stance in foreign relations. Propaganda fanned the flames of German nationalist fervor, lulling many middle-class citizens into enthusiastic support of the war.[18] For example, Haber, while he was caught up in the nationalist sentiments of the time, had committed himself to enlist in the notorious “Manifesto of the 93,” signed by some of Germany’s greatest scientists, writers, and artists. This document rebutted the wartime propaganda of the Allies and denied German wrongdoings in the war, claiming that German militarism and national identity are indeed essential to each other.

 

Many similarities could be found between China in the 21st century and Germany in the 20th century. Both countries share spectacular economic and military growth, threatening to displace the power of the reigning hegemon. However, domestically, the masses of both countries share similar sentiments of nationalism. China has grown increasingly nationalistic driven by the victimization narrative painted by the CCP. Through a series of "patriotic education" and an ideology based around the "century of humiliation," the party-state paints itself as being oppressed throughout society. The CCP, then, claims the responsibility to revive the country back to its former glory.

 

The countries in the first World War started the conflict in the search of glory. The United States and China are particularly guilty of this, as the state leaders of both countries have pledged that they will return their country to its former glory, with Trumps “Make America Great Again” and Xi Jinping's “China Dream,” “National Rejuvenation,” among other slogans. 

 

As the world's two biggest economic and military juggernauts, the domestic rhetoric between the two countries is a destabilizing force. When the spark of conflict occurs between the two nations, the domestic attitude of citizens has the power to force politicians into adapting hardline policies towards the other country, which will lead to a greater damaging of US-China relations. Indeed, we are seeing the start of this spiraling conflict ever since Trump has adapted a warlike policy towards China, starting what he coined as the trade war. As perceptions change between the countries, distrust will be further exacerbated, leading to games between the two countries that are not beneficial to either side.


HUMAN NATURE AND THE HUNGER GAMES


Her father died in a mine explosion when she was 11. Since then, she had to keep her family from starving to death, forced to provide for her mother and sister using the hunting and gathering knowledge that her father taught her. She was 16 years old, had straight black hair, gray eyes, and olive skin. Living in the impoverished coal-mining region of District 12, Katniss Everdeen in a heroic act to protect her sister volunteers herself to participate in an annual game in the Capitol where boys and girls from the ages 12–18 compete in a televised battle royale to the death.

 

Using whatever was at their disposal in the arena, the contests were to find every possible way to survive, using deception and skill to outmaneuver, outlast, and ultimately kill other contestants if necessary. In case you have not read or watched the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, it is a story about death, romance, and drama in the dystopian nation of Palem, featuring the heroine Katniss Everdeen.

 

What does Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games book have to do with US-China relations? The key lies in human nature. According to Thomas Hobbes, the author of the Leviathan and one of the founding fathers of political philosophy, society, as run by human nature, is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”[19] The world that he described is like the world of the Hunger Games. Inside the arena, individuals are required to fend for themselves in an arena without laws — anything was fair game. Individuals needed to do their best to survive in this world, forging alliances with other contestants not from friendship but rather from necessity.

 

To understand the reason why the United States and China might engage in conflict in the 21st century, we must think of the international political system as one that is described by Hobbes. To the international relations theory of classical realism (as Hobbes’ helped contribute to), states engage in conflict just like the contestants inside the Hunger Games. Humans go to war for four reasons: competition over scarce goods, the desire for security, glory, and for the sacrifice of something greater than themselves.

 

In the modern-day, scholars have coined the term structural realism (or neorealism). Structural realism posits that states exist in a state of international anarchy, similar to Hobbes’ world. Prominent Harvard international relations scholar Kenneth Waltz posits that states exist in a state of “anarchy” in the international system. This view asserts that the world lacks a global sovereign authority that can constrain the action of states. As the world lacks authority, individual rational states are primarily concerned with its own survival, engaging in self-help behavior by developing their military or economic prowess. Thus, the natural state for states is to develop its offensive and defensive capabilities. States mistrust each other and engage in games of one-upmanship as they try to respond to each other's military developments, creating a balance of power.

 

As part of structural realism, states engage in self-help to preserve its survival, reacting against developments made by other states. This is why throughout the world, military budgets remain to be an important aspect of statecraft. Though weapons are never physically used against individuals or against other states, the existence of these weapons in a state’s arsenal shows other states its resolve and ability to fight a battle when it actually comes. It is this balancing of perceptions and relative powers that have dictated much of the phenomena in international politics. A state with weaker relative military capabilities could see its diplomatic clout weaken against states that are more militarily and economically powerful.

 

When it comes to the bargaining table, it is often the countries with the greater relative ability that comes out on top. It is for this reason that the United States has been successful in defining much of the post-War World Order. As the sole remaining superpower after the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States has used its international preeminence to craft the world order that is favorable to itself. Today, what is accepted as norms internationally in terms of institutions, policy, political culture, media, and even pop culture is often based on the American model. Through this, the United States enjoys further benefits that it can use to strengthen its country and provide for a better standard of living for its citizens.

 

The idea of structural realism is very much alive in the case of the First World War. After the Fall of Napoleon, the European powers existed in a state of precarious balance of power. However, this balancing had created a race to amass more relative advantages triggering an arms race between countries. Fueled by the domestic passions of militarism and nationalism, war was made incredibly likely between the European powers. According to British statesman David Lloyd George who lived during the First World War, this Great War “was won not on the merits of the case, but on a balance of resources and of blunders.” To him, it was the relative hard power of nations that decided the outcome in favor of the Allies because their “reserves of man power, of material and of money at the command... were overwhelmingly greater than those possessed by the vanquished.”[20]

 

We will see that structural issues may drive the United States and China towards war in the 21st century.


DISRUPTION TO THE INTERNATIONAL SYSTEM


China is disrupting the global system, which is currently based on liberal institutionalism backed by U.S. hegemony. The economic rise of China and other emerging states plus the decline of Western countries is rendering the future of liberal institutionalism uncertain.

 

For one, China’s increasing power is moving us towards a world with multiple poles of power. The country and other emerging states are developing their own spheres of economic and military influence. At the intersections of these spheres lie conflict. Here, states will be more likely to engage in what is described as “self-help behavior” — such as through arms build-up — leading to cases of increased tensions and situations where no party will leave unscathed.

 

The United States will no longer be able to enforce order in all areas of the world. An example of the U.S. waning sphere of influence is the South China Sea, where China has already gained a powerful military foothold. Rather than being the “benevolent suzerain rule-giver to the world,” China is becoming rather more assertive, challenging the United States in this region.[21]

 

Furthermore, China is changing the narrative surrounding liberal institutionalism. The country has mounted a major public relations offensive, investing billions of dollars worldwide to improve its public image.[22] By Stymieing free speech and promoting its own narrative around the world, China is weakening the merits of the traditional Western and U.S. narratives. Chinese officials know that wars do not need to be fought or won by guns. Media and culture can also be extensions of warfare.

 

The country has a deeply-rooted ambition of upsetting the liberal world order. Xi Jinping views his country’s rise as a path of restoration.[23] This view is indicative of the belief that instead of simply “rising” to be amongst the other great powers of the world, China wants to return to its former civilizational glory as being the pre-eminent country. This view also explains China’s increasingly aggressive stance in the South Sea, as well as the ambitious scope of its economic projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative. Both endeavors echo China’s civilizational heritage of silk road trade and ocean navigation. In the future, we may continue to see more Chinese projects in line with this rhetoric of national rejuvenation.


THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR


The year is 431 BCE, and the Spartans have summoned the Corinthians to the Spartan assembly. The topic of discussion was Athens and the threat that it posed. After much debate between Spartan policymakers and the Corinthians, the warlike city-state sent its best fighting men to stymie Athens’ rise to power in Greece. This historical conflict known as the Peloponnesian War is a seminal event crucial to what prominent Harvard scholar Graham Allison coined as the “Thucydides Trap.”[24]


Ancient Greek historian Thucydides, in his Histories of the Peloponnesian War, chronicles the conflict between the two pre-eminent Greek powers, writing his book “not as an essay to win the applause of the moment, but as a possession for all time.”[25] During Thucydides’ time, the conflict between Sparta and Athens would be genuinely a considerable conflict that involved alliances and participation by numerous Greek islands as well as between the Athens-led Delian League and the Sparta-led Peloponnesian League. At the end of the fighting, Sparta would reign supreme, occupying Athens’ government, ushering in turmoil in the city-state’s domestic politics. Ultimately, this conflict would shape the Greek world due to its incredible economic costs and political changes, terminating the golden age of Athens.

 

 The structural factors at play at the onset of the Peloponnesian war have been most beneficial to the study of international relations and US-China relations. The “Thucydides Trap,” coined by Harvard professor Graham Allison, posits that the propensity for armed conflict to occur is high when a rising power threatens the position of the dominant influence. In Allison’s words, “Thucydides went to the heart of the matter… when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, the resulting structural stress makes a violent clash the rule, not the exception.”[26] It was due to “the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta” that conflict was inevitable between the two city-states.[27]

 

Using the Peloponnesian War as a basis, Allision continues to analyze other historical conflicts where a rising power threatened to displace a ruling power. Twelve of these cases resulted in war, and only four instances avoided conflict — albeit requiring “huge, painful adjustments in attitudes and actions on the part of challenger and challenged alike.”[28] Does this historical trend paint a grim outlook for the future of the relationship between the United States and China.

 

At a large banquet hall in Seattle, Washington, stood Chinese President Xi Jinping. On his way to D.C., Xi is in the city of Seattle to broadcast an optimistic message to American decision-makers. With Washington state sending more than twenty billion dollars in aircraft and agricultural products to China in 2014 and as well as being home to tech behemoths like Microsoft and Amazon, the Chinese president is in town to convey a message of positivity. He hopes to convey the friendly ties between China and the United States as well as boost the confidence of enterprises on both sides of the Pacific for the future of bilateral trade.[29]

 

Present at the banquet were also Dr. Henry Kissinger, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, as well as numerous other individuals from the state government and the National Committee on US-China Relations. In his speech, Xi stressed that there is “no such thing as the so-called Thucydides Trap in the world,” hoping that the two countries can build a “new model of major-country relationship that features non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation.”[30]

 

However, fast forward to 2019, and the situation between China and the United States seems grim. There is now a bi-partisan hawkishness in the U.S. government regarding China, and this sentiment was not alleviated by the election of President Donald Trump in 2016. In fact, since the start of the official trade war in June of 2018, the United States has taken more hardline measures against China. History may not be deterministic, but it may be the best way for us to predict the future, and the omen of Thucydides has perhaps already started playing itself out.

 

Both countries have fallen deeper into the Thucydides trap at the time of this writing in 2019. The conflict seen on the news has revolved around trade. However, in fact, at the core of the trade tensions actually lies issues of technology rivalry and the balancing of technological capabilities. The real issue is the structure of agreements between the United States and China rather than the trade deficit itself. According to realist international relations, it is only natural for countries to focus on building its technological power, rising vis a vis adversary. This is the phenomenon that is at play in China’s Thucydides trap.

 

For many years, the United States witnessed an unanticipated growth of China. According to Professor Peter Feaver of Duke University, the United States, during the Reagan and H.W. Bush Administrations, did not enact proper policies to contain the country’s rise. The United States, at the time of China’s Reform and Opening Up, miscalculated that the country would eventually undergo political liberalization as result of the introduction of economic freedoms by the Chinese government.[31] China today remains to be economically liberal, but politically authoritarian.

 

The United States is just beginning to realize the threat of competition by China, coining the so-called “China threat.” Under the Trump Administration, the country has started to impose a series of restrictions on the country.

 

“It is a massive national security issue to the West,” Bannon said, in a phone interview on Saturday with the South China Morning Post. “The executive order is 10 times more important than walking away from the trade deal. [Huawei] is a major national security threat, not just to the US but to the rest of the world. We are going to shut it down.”[32]

 

Unlike during the Peloponnesian War, war today is not fought with weapons to kill, rather, there are many new dimensions to conflict. States now have many more resources at their disposal, with greater control in economics, technology, and media. The Thucydides Trap, in the 21st century, will, therefore, encompass factors that are much greater than simply military standoffs through conventional weapons. For warfare to move beyond limits, it must become a complete military “Machiavelli” as the future battlefield will be beyond the battlefield.[33] The structural stresses caused by the Thucydides trap will cause China and the United States closer and closer into a conflict that transcends boundaries.

 

Due to nuclear deterrence, the taboo of warfare, and the audience costs of direct military conflict, flashpoints between China and the United States will be largely invisible. Conflicts will manifest themselves in different ways such as through the trade war. Other dimensions include the cyberspace, innovation, ecology, culture and media, space exploration, and many others In a globalized world where actors are interdependent, the significance of boundaries is merely relative — the efficacy for international political competition has the potential to seep into many aspects of our lives.[34]

 

Effectively, this situation can be represented by a three-dimensional chess game, where there is a struggle for victory on multiple layers of conflict.

 

Like Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games, countries exist in a state of anarchy in the international system. Each state faces off with each other, join in on alliances, and develop its own hard power advantage vis a vis potential adversaries. This is a world characterized by inherent distrust and the need for political survival, for the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.[35] The First World War occured due to the structural stress imposed by this international system. It will be interesting to see how the conflict will play out between China and the United States. 


[1] World War I (1914-1918), n.d. https://www2.gwu.edu/~erpapers/teachinger/glossary/world-war-1.cfm.

[2] Twamley, Zachary. A Matter of Honour: Britain and the First World War. Point Pleasant, NJ: Winged Hussar Publishing, LLC, 2016.

[3]  World War I (1914-1918), n.d. https://www2.gwu.edu/~erpapers/teachinger/glossary/world-war-1.cfm.

[4] Boundless. “Boundless World History.” Lumen, n.d. https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-worldhistory/chapter/the-congress-of-vienna/.

[5] Kennedy, Paul M. “The First World War and the International Power System.” International Security 9, no. 1 (1984): 7. https://doi.org/10.2307/2538634.

[6] Wu, Wendy. “Steve Bannon Helps Revive US Cold War-Era Committee to Target China.” South China Morning Post, March 26, 2019. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3003283/cold-war-back-steve-bannon-helps-revive-us-committee-target.

[7] Allison, Graham T. Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydidess Trap? London: Scribe, 2018.

[8] Townshend, Ashley, Matilda Steward, and Brendan Thomas-Noone. “Averting Crisis: American Strategy, Military Spending and Collective Defence in the Indo-Pacific - United States Studies Centre.” Averting Crisis: American strategy, military spending and collective defence in the Indo-Pacific - United States Studies Centre, n.d. https://www.ussc.edu.au/analysis/averting-crisis-american-strategy-military-spending-and-collective-defence-in-the-indo-pacific.

[9] Allison, Graham T. Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydidess Trap? London: Scribe, 2018.

[10] Boxhill, Ian. From Unipolar to Multipolar: the Remaking of Global Hegemony. Kingston, Jamaica: Arawak, 2014.

[11] Pan, Chengxin. “The ‘China Threat’ in American Self-Imagination: The Discursive Construction of Other as Power Politics.” Alternatives: Global, Local, Political 29, no. 3 (2004): 305–31. https://doi.org/10.1177/030437540402900304.

[12] Angell, Norman. The Great Illusion. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1910.

[13] Evans, Richard J, and Harold James. “Debate: Is 2014, like 1914, a Prelude to World War?” The Globe and Mail, June 19, 2017. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/read-and-vote-is-2014-like-1914-a-prelude-to-world-war/article19325504/.

[14] Haber, L. F. The Poisonous Cloud: Chemical Warfare in the First World War. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2002.

[15] “The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1918.” NobelPrize.org, n.d. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/chemistry/1918/haber/biographical/

[16] “Weapons on Land - Poison Gas.” Canada and the First World War, n.d. https://www.warmuseum.ca/firstworldwar/history/battles-and-fighting/weapons-on-land/poison-gas/.

[17] “Nuclear Posture Review.” Department of Defense, February 2018. https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-REPORT.PDF.

[18] Stern, Fritz. “Fritz Haber: Flawed Greatness of Person and Country.” Angewandte Chemie International Edition 51, no. 1 (August 2011): 50–56. https://doi.org/10.1002/anie.201107900.

[19] Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. S.l.: Ancient Wisdom Publication, 2019.

[20] Lloyd, Lloyd George David. War Memoirs of David Lloyd George. London: Nicholson & Watson, 1934.

[21] Dreyer, June Teufel. “The ‘Tianxia Trope’: Will China Change the International System?” Journal of Contemporary China 24, no. 96 (2015): 1015–31. https://doi.org/10.1080/10670564.2015.1030951.

[22] Shambaugh, David. “China's Soft-Power Push.” Foreign Affairs. Foreign Affairs Magazine, September 3, 2015. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2015-06-16/china-s-soft-power-push.

[23] Xiang, Lanxin. “Xi’s Dream and China’s Future.” Survival 58, no. 3 (March 2016): 53–62. https://doi.org/10.1080/00396338.2016.1186978.

[24] Allison, Graham T. Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydidess Trap? London: Scribe, 2018.

[25] Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War. Place of publication not identified: Franklin Classics Trade Press, 2018.

[26] Allison, Graham T. Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydidess Trap? London: Scribe, 2018.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Xin, Zhou, Wendy Wu, and Kinling Lo. “Xi Jinping Sounds Long March Rallying Call as US Trade War Tensions Rise.” South China Morning Post, May 21, 2019. https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3010977/xi-jinping-visits-rare-earth-minerals-facility-amid-talk-use.

[30] “Speech by H.E. Xi Jinping President of the People's Republic of China At the Welcoming Dinner Hosted by Local Governments And Friendly Organizations in the United States.” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China, September 25, 2015. https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/wjdt_665385/zyjh_665391/t1305429.shtml.

[31] “The President Takes On China, Alone.” The New York Times. The New York Times, May 15, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/15/podcasts/the-daily/trump-china-trade-war.html.

[32] Mai, Jun. “Steve Bannon Says Killing Huawei More Important than Trade Deal with China.” South China Morning Post, May 23, 2019. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3011145/steve-bannon-says-killing-huawei-more-important-trade-deal.

[33] Qiao, Liang, Al Santoli, and Xiangsui Wang. Unrestricted Warfare. Brattleboro, VT: Echo Point Books & Media, 2015.

[34] Qiao, Liang, Al Santoli, and Xiangsui Wang. Unrestricted Warfare. Brattleboro, VT: Echo Point Books & Media, 2015.

[35] Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War. Place of publication not identified: Franklin Classics Trade Press, 2018.

About the author

As a Chinese-Canadian having worked at Huawei Technologies and China Central Television (CCTV), Dennis Wang has a unique perspective on the dynamics between the US and China. While attending Duke University, he served as the Deputy Director of the Duke-UNC China Leadership Summit. view profile

Published on February 21, 2020

Published by New Degree Press

60000 words

Genre: Political Science

Reviewed by

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