Graham T. Allison Jr.: Obama and Xi Must Think Broadly to Avoid a Classic Trap

tags: Barack Obama, China, Xi Jinping, Graham T. Allison Jr., Harvard Kennedy School, Thucydides



Graham T. Allison Jr. is the director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — AS President Obama welcomes China’s new president, Xi Jinping, for an informal “shirt-sleeves” summit meeting in California on Friday, the bureaucracies of both governments must be quivering. Each will have prepared a long list of issues for its country’s leader to discuss, from cyberattacks and trade disputes to North Korean antics and competing claims in the seas near China. Talking points have been drafted, and many hope that a historic communiqué is in the works.

But if that’s all that happens, this summit meeting will have been a huge missed opportunity. Let us hope that these two leaders will rise above their bureaucracies’ narrow goals to confront the overarching challenge facing the two most important nations in the world.

Simply put, can the United States and China escape [the] Thucydides Trap?

In 11 of 15 cases since 1500 in which a rising power rivaled a ruling power, the outcome was war. Can Mr. Obama and Mr. Xi successfully defy those odds?...



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