Is war between China and the US inevitable? | Graham Allison | Summary and Q&A

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November 20, 2018
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TED
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Is war between China and the US inevitable? | Graham Allison

TL;DR

China's rapid rise to power poses a significant challenge to the United States and the global order, with historical patterns suggesting a potential collision between the two powers.

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Questions & Answers

Q: How has China's rise affected the United States and the global order?

China's rapid rise is causing discombobulation and insecurity in the United States, challenging its position as the dominant power in the international order. This creates tensions and potential conflict between the two powers as they compete for positions and influence in various sectors.

Q: Are there any parallels between China's rise and historical conflicts between rising and ruling powers?

Yes, there is a pattern in history where a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, leading to conflicts. In this case, China's rise is akin to Athens challenging Sparta in ancient Greece or Germany challenging Great Britain a century ago. The parallel raises concerns about potential conflict between China and the US.

Q: What are China's goals for the future?

Chinese President Xi Jinping has set specific targets to make China the dominant power in key technologies, innovate across all advanced technologies, and become unambiguously number one by 2049, including having a powerful military. China's ambition aims to surpass the US and be at the forefront of global influence.

Q: How has the global order responded to China's rise?

China's rise has impacted global trade, with China becoming the number one trading partner for many major Asian countries. The US, as the ruling power, has been faced with the challenge of a rising China, and it has led to a trade conflict between the two nations. The dynamics of China's rise have sparked concerns in the international community.

Summary

This video discusses the rise of China as a global power and its impact on the United States and the international order. The speaker introduces the concept of Thucydides's Trap, which refers to the dangerous dynamic that occurs when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, often leading to war. The speaker emphasizes the need for imagination, common sense, and courage to manage the rivalry between the US and China without catastrophic consequences.

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the rise of China and its impact on the US and the international order?

The rise of China refers to its rapid economic and technological growth, which has allowed it to become a major global player, rivaling the United States in several areas. This rise poses a challenge to the US and the international order, as it disrupts the existing power dynamics and the US's role as a dominant global power.

Q: How does the concept of Thucydides's Trap apply to the current situation between the US and China?

Thucydides's Trap is the dangerous dynamic that occurs when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, leading to conflict or war. In the case of the US and China, China's rise and its challenge to US power and influence can create a toxic cocktail of pride, arrogance, and paranoia, potentially leading to war between the two nations.

Q: Can this rivalry between the US and China be managed without war?

It is possible to manage the rivalry without war, but it requires imagination, common sense, and courage from both sides. This means finding creative solutions, thinking outside the box of conventional statecraft, and actively engaging in dialogue and cooperation to avoid the catastrophic consequences of war.

Q: How has China's rise impacted its citizens economically?

Forty years ago, approximately 90% of China's population was struggling to survive on less than two dollars a day. Today, fewer than 1% of Chinese citizens live below this threshold. China's economic growth has lifted millions of people out of poverty, making it a remarkable feat in our lifetime.

Q: Who is the most ambitious and competent leader on the international stage today?

Chinese President Xi Jinping is considered the most ambitious and competent leader on the international stage. He has set specific goals for China's dominance in various technologies, such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing, and aims for China to be unambiguously number one by the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic in 2049.

Q: How does the tectonic change caused by China's rise affect trade relationships?

China's rise has already made it the number one trading partner of major Asian countries. As China becomes bigger, stronger, and technologically advanced, it will inevitably clash with American positions and interests, impacting trade relationships and economic dynamics.

Q: How does history suggest the US and China rivalry might unfold?

History has shown that in 16 out of 16 cases where a rising power threatened to displace a ruling power, 12 of them ended in war. These wars were often initiated by a third party's provocation, forcing the rising or ruling power to react. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand leading to World War I is a prime example of how seemingly insignificant events can escalate to global conflicts.

Q: Who are the key players in this narrative?

The key players in the US-China rivalry are Donald J. Trump as the leader of the ruling power, Xi Jinping as the leader of the rising power, and Kim Jong-un as a provocateur who adds to the tensions between the two nations. Each of these leaders plays a role in driving the narrative and potentially pushing the rivalry closer to war.

Q: What is the speaker's call to action?

The speaker calls for imagination and creativity outside the box of conventional statecraft. He urges the audience, as creative thinkers, to come up with bold and wild ideas to manage the rivalry between the US and China without war. He highlights the need for a surge of imagination and a collective effort, similar to the one that created the post-World War II international order, to avoid repeating history's mistakes.

Q: What could happen if the US and China fail to manage the rivalry peacefully?

If the US and China allow themselves to be driven by the forces of history and fail to find a peaceful resolution to their rivalry, it could lead to a catastrophic war with dire consequences for both nations. The speaker emphasizes the urgent need to prevent such a war and calls for a new approach informed by history and driven by imagination.

Takeaways

The rise of China as a global power poses a major challenge to the United States and the international order. Historically, when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, it often leads to conflict or war. Therefore, it is crucial to find a way to manage the US-China rivalry without resorting to war, which would have catastrophic consequences. This requires imagination, common sense, and courage to think creatively and seek alternative solutions. The speaker calls for a surge of imagination similar to the one that created the post-World War II international order, as only through informed actions can history's mistakes be avoided.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • The rise of China in the global order poses a disruption to the dominance of the United States, leading to a potential clash between the two powers.

  • Historically, 12 out of 16 cases where a rising power threatened a ruling power have resulted in war.

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping has set ambitious goals to make China the dominant power in key technologies and to become the leading global innovator.

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