China and US wise enough to avoid Thucydides Trap

Both must jointly continue their unprecedented model of a peaceful superpower-rising power relationship

China and the United States must take the road of jointly building a new model of major-country relationship.

Interdependence among countries has reached unprecedented range and depth today, which makes all countries a community of common interests and shared destiny. Living in the same global village, no country, facing all kinds of common and complicated new problems, new threats, and new challenges, can deal with them on its own.

China and the US should never quarrel with each other endlessly, nor should they fight with each other.

In today's world, weapons have developed to a surprisingly advanced level, and their stockpiles are staggering. Both China and the US are nuclear powers with numerous conventional, sophisticated weapons. Should China and the US enter into war, neither would emerge the winner.The result would be mutual destruction, and disaster to the entire world. Both China and the US are great countries; neither of us is willing to commit such a heinous crime.

In the 21st century, I think that two things are certain.

First, no country can take the place of the US as superpower, and the US will not decline.

Over the past decades, China and the US have been taking the road to a new model of major-country relationship and this has developed to a high level that no one decades ago could ever have imagined, and with an unprecedented depth and broadness, says the writer. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Second, no country can obstruct the rise of developing countries including China, Russia and India. China's development can both benefit the Chinese people and contribute to the development of the world and mankind. If China succeeds in its development, the US will be the biggest beneficiary. On the contrary, if China does not develop and falls into poverty, turmoil or chaos, that would be the most terrible situation for the US.


China is a country nourished by a 5,000-year civilisation, and committed to peace and development. What we seek is not hegemony, but a better life for the Chinese people and more peace in the world. So the US should not be afraid of, but should embrace, the peaceful development of China.

Is there any reason why the US should not maximise its cooperation with China and not make the best use of the dividend brought to it by China's development? If the US adopts the policy to restrain, suppress or even go to war with China, it would be wrong. That is what a fool will do, and is the equivalent of making the biggest business loss.

Then, is the road of cooperation feasible? I believe it is. In the history of world development, the idea of a "Thucydides Trap" (when a rising power rivals a ruling power, such as in ancient Greece when Athens challenged Sparta, as pointed out by historian Thucydides) is not an insurmountable, iron-clad law, and many precedents that have successfully avoided conflicts do exist.

There has been no world war in the past 70 years since the end of World War II - a fact worth studying. Today, China and the US should not only, but are also capable and wise enough to, jointly stride over the so-called "Trap", to create history and embark on a new path.

When then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and then President Richard Nixon jointly opened the door to joint relations 45 years ago, the statesmen laid the foundation for the two countries to build a new model of major-country relationship in modern times.

Over the past decades, China and the US on the whole have been taking the road to a new model of major-country relationship designed by the leaders of older generations. Although there are twists and turns, and even bumps on the road, China-US relations have been moving forward.

Today, this has developed to a high level that no one decades ago could ever have imagined, and with an unprecedented depth and broadness. The high-level relationship between two countries that are so different in social systems and development levels has created a world miracle, and fully demonstrates that the road is feasible.

During a historic meeting in 2013, President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama reached a strategic consensus on jointly building a new model of China-US major-country relationship, setting the fundamental goals, direction and framework for the further development of relations for the 21st century.

This is the first strategic consensus reached in human history between a rising power and a big power to avoid the "Thucydides Trap".

This result is not only the inheritance and development of the two countries' elder statesmen's strategic thoughts, but also the result of the deliberation of leaders and strategic circles of both sides, as well as the result of patient, frank and honest communication. The strategic consensus is a summary and distillation of experience and lessons in human history and which is welcomed by the two peoples and the rest of the world.


So, how should we promote the new model of China-US major-country relationship now and for the long term?

First, generations of statesmen of the two countries must insist on this goal, and unswervingly push forward the construction of a new model of China-US major-country relationship. And we should be unwavering, and guide the people of the two countries to growing understanding and support to participate in this new model.

More simply, I think that the development of China-US relations should have no ceiling but guarantee the lower limit.

"Have no ceiling", in that we should develop bilateral cooperation to be as good as we can. Of course, there is one principle that will be non-aligned.

"Guarantee the lower limit" means that definitely there will be no conflicts between the two countries, and we cannot forge a cold war, let alone forge a hot war.

Second, the leaders and the diplomatic teams of the two countries need to maintain and strengthen timely, in-depth and frank strategic dialogues and communications, and enhance mutual trust, to avoid misunderstanding and misjudgment. The US should properly view China's development and strategic intentions, not regard what China does as a challenge to the US, and should properly develop cooperation with China in all aspects. China should clearly know that it is, and still will be, a developing country, concentrate on its own business and not challenge the superpower position of the US. It is important that both sides should treat each other as a friend and partner, rather than an opponent and enemy.

Third, the construction of a new model of major-country relationship is unprecedented, so it is understandable that there are different opinions on it. Those who cannot understand can keep thinking about it, and both sides can also continue discussing it.

However, for those few who want to deny and reverse the consensus reached by the two heads of state, I do not think the people of both sides could agree with them. They should know that constructing a new model of major-country relationship has a great strategic value for the US.

I once told an American friend that China's efforts should be appreciated. Has there ever before been, in the history of the world, an emerging major country like China that has proposed to have no conflict or confrontation, instead having mutual respect and cooperation and win-win results with existing powers?

Did the US, in its rising, ever do so with the United Kingdom? Those who want to deny and reverse the consensus should change their position to support the US' path in firmly constructing a new model of major-country relationship with China. There will be many obstacles and difficulties in constructing this new model of major-country relationship between China and the US, but its future is bright.

  • Dai Bingguo is a former State Councillor of China responsible for foreign affairs.
  • This article is based on comments made by Mr Dai on March 19, at the 2016 China Development Forum at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse when he engaged in a dialogue with former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2016, with the headline 'China and US wise enough to avoid Thucydides Trap'. Print Edition | Subscribe