By Zhao Minghao Source: Global Times Published: 2015-9-21
Prior to Chinese President Xi Jinping`s US visit, China and the US reached an important consensus on the cyber security issue during a visit by Xi`s special envoy Meng Jianzhu, a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. This sends a positive signal that the two countries have confidence in dealing with new challenges in the 21st century such as cyber security with cooperative approach and that more such deliverables will enrich the new type of major power relationship between China and the US.
US President Barack Obama visited China in November 2014. At that time, many people were pessimistic about what outcomes could be reached during his tour. Then the two sides released a joint announcement on climate change with stricter emission reduction goals, which took many observers by surprise. Even the usually picky New York Times said the historical accord "has fundamentally shifted the global politics of climate change."
China and the US are trying to turn areas of divergence and conflicts into ones of dialogue and cooperation, as the example of climate change and cyber security shows. But this has not been given due attention as people tend to be more interested in negative things.
Graham Allison, a professor at Harvard University, said that if leaders in China and the US perform no better than their predecessors in classical Greece, or Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, historians of the 21st century will cite Thucydides in explaining the catastrophe that follows. Athens and Sparta fought a war due to very complicated reasons, not the rise of Athens. The arrogance of Athenians intensified the fear of Spartans, and to some degree Spartans were overly fearful.
The rise of power alone doesn`t necessarily lead to violent clashes. The key lies in what strategy a rising country chooses and how a hegemonic power responds to challenges.
Today the US and China are highly economically interdependent while China doesn`t have enough military strength to confront the US completely. In this context, the US is unlikely to adopt a full-scale containment strategy against China.
To find historical lessons for China and the US to avoid the "Thucydides`s Trap," we need to focus on the development of Sino-US relations in the last 30 years or more rather than relations between Athens and Sparta, or between Germany and Britain in the 19th century.
The new type of major power relationship that China and the US want to build has no textbook to use or precedents to follow. Meanwhile, the two countries have to solve problems with pragmatic and foresighted attitudes. They cannot afford to let the bilateral relationship slide into strategic rivalry.
The US should not dawdle in whether to accept the China-proposed concept of new type of major power relationship. With the proposal, China doesn`t intend to gain the upper hand in terms of discourse, but to avoid conflicts more proactively. The new type of major power relationship fits the common needs of both China and the US.
Despite more frequent interactions, a feasible system to manage the bilateral relationship in these strategic domains remains absent. Without rules, the two powers may have clashes.
China and the US also need to be common defenders of global stability. Currently, the world economic recovery lacks momentum, reforms of international economic governance get stuck and multilateral trading system is adversely affected. Against this backdrop, the two countries need to coordinate macro-economic policy. As the European refugee crisis indicates, there are many more complicated destabilizing factors emerging and they will eventually threaten the common interests of China and the US.
A critical point in deciding the future trajectory of Sino-US relations is how the two countries observe the world and their own strength. Xi may use his US trip to elaborate how China will use its newly found power and help improve the international order instead of overturning it.
Beijing and Washington should not misjudge each other`s strategic intentions and instead can be aware of the limits to their power. In fact, they are both adapting hard to the emerging global environment that has more uncertainties and this definitely depends on a new type of major power relationship that emphasizes openness and cooperation.
The author is a visiting fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.