Overcoming zero-sum mentality for future China-U.S. ties

Li Jiayao
2024-04-02 20:34:27

Stephen A. Orlins, president of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations of the United States, speaks at a panel discussion themed on "Guided by Cooperation, Building a Community with a Shared Future in the South China Sea" during the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Annual Conference 2024 in Boao, south China's Hainan Province, March 28, 2024. (Xinhua/Yang Guanyu)

The United States and China must cooperate and find a correct way to get along with each other, which is crucial to both countries and the world, Allison, the father of the "Thucydides's Trap," said.

BEIJING, April 2 (Xinhua) -- Over the past decade, the "Thucydides's Trap" has been tapped by many politicians and scholars in Washington as a prevailing narrative to frame the future of China-U.S. relations.

This parallel compares China to many rising powers in history, and implies that its rise poses a direct challenge to U.S. dominance, reminiscent of the many wars and conflicts between a rising power and an established power, like the historic war between Athens and Sparta, two cities state in ancient Greece.

Many insightful observers have argued that viewing China-U.S. ties through the lens of a "trap" is both misleading and avoidable, emphasizing the potential for constructive engagement over deterministic conflict.

Graham Allison, who popularized the term "Thucydides's Trap," now also believes that the trap is not inevitable. Allison was part of a delegation comprising representatives from U.S. business, strategic, and academic sectors that recently met with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

During the meeting with Xi, they emphasized that given their close economic interdependence, both the United States and China stand to flourish only through peaceful coexistence and mutual development.

Why is there a growing rejection of the "Thucydides's Trap?" At its core, the trap hinges on a zero-sum mentality, a perspective that views international relations as an eternal competition, where the progress of one nation inherently undermines that of another.

It is crucial for adherents of the "Thucydides's Trap" theory, especially among U.S. observers and policymakers, to acknowledge that it was the zero-sum mindset that has often been a key driver of conflicts between nations throughout history.

As said by Xi on Wednesday, the China-U.S. relationship is one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world, and whether China and the United States have a cooperative or confrontational relationship bears on the well-being of the Chinese and American peoples and the future of humanity.

In contrast to the complaints of those China-bashers in Washington who criticize China's growth as being at the expense of the United States, it is crucial to recognize that the two countries' respective success is an opportunity for each other.

Over the past 45 years, bilateral trade has expanded by more than 200 times. More than 70,000 U.S. companies have invested and operated in China, and nearly 90 percent of the operations are profitable.

Krimson Klover's CEO and founder Rhonda Swenson shows a jacket made in China in Boulder, Colorado, the United States, Sept. 12, 2019. Krimson Klover, a small, boutique women's clothing business located on the foothills of the U.S. state of Colorado's Rocky Mountains, was losing revenue due to the U.S.-China trade war. (Xinhua/Li Ying)

U.S. exports to China have supported a broad swath of the U.S. economy. In 2021, China stood out as the largest export market for four U.S. states and one of the top three export markets for 38 states in America. And the current annual bilateral trade supports over 2.6 million jobs in the United States.

Regarding its strategic intentions, China has made its commitment to eschewing the outdated practices of colonization and exploitation, as well as rejecting the pursuit of hegemony.

China has no intention to replace the United States. Its developmental goals are focused on continually improving the well-being of the Chinese people and making substantial contributions to global sustainable development.

By contrast, Washington's attention appears increasingly fixated on its diminishing hegemony.

As the Global South awakens and developing countries ascend, reverting to the past of unipolar world becomes improbable. The old days of China-U.S. ties won't come back, but their relationship can embrace a brighter future as long as both see each other as partners and show mutual respect, coexist in peace and cooperate for win-win results.

In talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Allison, the father of the "Thucydides's Trap," stressed that in today's complex world, binary opposition cannot solve the problems.

The United States and China must cooperate and find a correct way to get along with each other, which is crucial to both countries and the world, he said.  

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