On April 13, 2015 Beijing time, Hillary Clinton announced that she will run for the 2016 presidential race. This news brings Chinese and American media into a rather curious doubt about how Sino-America relationship is going to work if Hillary wins the race. One sure thing is that Sino-America relationship will be unavoidably affected. It is Hillary who, as secretary of state, urged Washington to “return to Asia” to contain the rise of Beijing. Some people predict that if Hillary wins her bid for the White House, the pivot to the Asia-Pacific will be strengthened; a greater probability of new conflicts between China and the US will be brought, even the possibility of a war will be made.
The presumption of the potential hazard that Sino-US war might happen has never stopped, since China has become World’s 1st manufacturing country in the world in 2010,China has overtaken the US to become the world's largest industrial producer and become a threat to America’s superpower position.
There is one theory that has been frequently referred to when it comes to Sino-US relationship- “Thucydides' trap”. The “Thucydides' trap” is a concept derived from Thucydides’ thesis on the Peloponnesian War between the Athens and its empire against the Sparta: "What made the war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused Sparta." Thucydides wrote in order to illustrate the resulting systematic change; that is, “a change in the hierarchy or control of the international political system." This theory has been used to describe Sino-US relation by many western scholars in deliberating China’s rise.
The one who first applied the theory to Sino-U.S. relations was Prof. Graham Allison at Harvard University. As what he has observed about China, ‘A diva of such proportions cannot enter the stage without effect. Never has a nation moved so far, so fast, up the international rankings on all dimensions of power. if we were betting on the basis of history, the answer to the question about Thucydides’ trap appears obvious. In eleven fifteenths cases since 1500 where a rising power emerged to challenge a ruling power, war occurred. Ever since then, Western academic theorists and strategists have often pointed to the Thucydides' trap as a example of the relationship between America and China, and are somehow convinced that the war between two countries is definitely going to happen. However, are China and America really trapped in the “Thucydides trap”?
While there are many reasons to be pessimistic about the future of the relationship, I’m still optimistic. There are several reasons why.
First and foremost, it has been almost 2,500 years since Thucydides wrote History Of The Peloponnesian War. With time flying so fast, the world we live in is no longer like what it is in 400 BC. We are now living in the era of globalization, and one thing that is crucial to globalization is the economy. China has been established diplomatic relationship with the US for 36 years, and the cooperation between two countries in either economy or culture tends to be increasingly reinforced. Dating back to 1993 , the value of Sino-US bilateral trade is 27.66 billion dollars, and when it comes to 2014, the quantity reached 500 billion dollars, increasing nearly 20 times. Not to mention that China is the largest foreign holder of American public debts. In recent years, studying abroad to US has been a trend in China, according to the statistics, the population of overseas Chinese students has been continuously increasing in 7 years. A quarter of a million Chinese students study annually in American universities. It’s hard to imagine what would happen if two powerful countries terminate their cooperation and start a war. The whole order of this world might change, and as you can tell, nobody would like to see that happen.
Secondly, China is obviously not the “aggressive Athens” from the “Thucydides' trap”. China has clearly signaled that it intends to develop peacefully and that it does not seek to subvert or overthrow the existing international order. From 1978 when it opened up, China has chosen to join the world and integrate itself into the international system. Since the beginning of this century, China has published two “peaceful development” white papers that make its intentions known to the international community.
China’s “peaceful development” was an official policy in China under the leadership of Hu Jintao. This principle underlies two historical factors. One is, during the World WarⅡ, the invasion of Japanese army caused a tremendous misery to China, Simultaneously, the battle between the nationalist party and the communist party also deteriorated the situation of China. Surviving from the war, Chinese learned that peace is the fundamental of development. The other is, Confucius has great influence on Chinese culture since The Spring and Autumn period and has become a symbol of Chinese culture. One core ethics of the Confucianism is “Rén”, which emphasizes several notions as humaneness, benevolent, kindness and respect. More recently, Beijing has proposed a new type of great power relations with the U.S to reassure Washington of China’s commitment to peaceful development and constructive ties.
Thirdly, the war of two superpowers more often than not leads to a negative consequence. According to the history of cold war, the two nations promoted two opposing economic and political ideologies and the two nations competed for international influence along these lines. The war between two countries protracted a geopolitical, ideological, and economic struggle-lasting from about 1947 to the period leading to the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991. After Russia embarked on capitalist economic reforms in the 1990s, it suffered a financial crisis and a recession more severe than the United States and Germany had experienced during the Great Depression. Russian living standards have worsened overall in the post–Cold War years, and both Russia and the United States ended up with substantial economic liabilities.
It is their mutual fear that led to political confrontations; some of which nearly led to world war. Differing economic philosophies resulted in opposing claims of what freedom meant, and economic competition led to massive military spending by both countries. Considering the current situation that the United States has the world's largest economy and China has the second largest and China’s growing influence over the world, any kind of contradiction may lead to a war. In order to avoid the probable damage a war could brought, President Obama and President Xi Jingping are making efforts to build a “new model of major power relationship”.
To establish a new model of major power relationship, it requires China and the United States to build a comprehensive, cooperative, flexible, resilient, mutually beneficial relationship that allows us to work through differences and maximize opportunities. Seen from the past, the relationship has continued to grow and provide benefits for both sides for more than three decades. American policy toward China has remained fairly consistent over that time period, as has China’s toward the United States. America and China have successfully managed their competition and differences while continuing a robust economic relationship and occasionally cooperating on shared challenges. We could say that these countries are on their way pursuing a new model of major power relations in which deep economic interconnection and security interdependence exist alongside sharp divides and neuralgic disputes.
There is no other big power relationship more consequential than that between the United States and China. The United States and China have different histories and cultures, our political and government structures are based on different concepts and traditions. But the needs of a deeply interconnected world with transnational challenges require a positive relationship between our two nations . Both countries would pursue their own national interests, yet in a way that strengthens the international order of rules and norms, regional stability, and the bilateral relationship itself. This is a relationship like no other in history, and it is known to both sides that the continued dedication to build a new model is necessary.
Despite many stops and starts, the trend of two country’s relation will hopefully be peaceful development with mutual benefit and economic interdependence. China has been focusing on economic construction and seeking development for years and in no tension to destroy them, while America still remain its superpower position. A new model of relationship without full-scale conflict that people on both sides are seeking is not just a dream.
Author 1: Lyu Qingtian
Wuhan University Of Technology
Author 2 :Kaylee Anderson
Spring Arbor University
Nationality: the United States