Let’s imagine a Chinese “applied history” project, similar to the one at Harvard’s Belfer Center that helped spawn Professor Graham Allison’s widely discussed book “Destined for War.”
Allison’s historical analysis led him to posit a “Thucydides Trap” and the danger (if not inevitability) of war between a rising China and a dominant America, like the ancient conflict between Athens and Sparta chronicled described by the Greek historian Thucydides. A study by the Belfer Center’s Applied History Project identified 16 similar “rising versus ruling” cases over the past 500 years, 12 of which resulted in war. What would the Chinese say about the lessons of past interactions with the West?
Chinese analysts, from President Xi Jinping on down, have nominally rejected Allison’s pessimistic analysis. “There is no Thucydides Trap,” Xi has argued, claiming that he had devised an alternative “new type of great-power relations” that would avoid war by recognizing that each Asian giant had its own legitimate interests. More recently, he has shifted to arguing that “China and the U.S. must do everything possible to avoid [the] Thucydides Trap.”