Analysis & Opinions - Financial Times

Destined for war? China, America and the Thucydides trap

| Mar. 30, 2017

As Trump and Xi prepare to meet, Gideon Rachman looks at the tests ahead for the world’s most important bilateral relationship

As Xi Jinping prepares to meet Donald Trump in Florida next week, his staff might do well to get hold of an advance copy of an important new book by Graham Allison on US-Chinese relations — which bears the doom-laden title Destined for War.

The Chinese president is already familiar with the work of Allison, a professor of government at Harvard. In November 2013, I attended a meeting with President Xi in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where he told a group of western visitors: “We must all work together to avoid Thucydides’ trap.”

The phrase, a reference to the ancient Greek historian’s observations about the war between Sparta and Athens in the fifth century BC, was coined by Allison to describe the dangers of a period in which an established great power is challenged by a rising power. Allison, the author of a classic study of the Cuban missile crisis, calculates that in 12 out of 16 such cases, the rivalry has ended in open conflict. This time, he argues, may be no different: “China and the United States are currently on a collision course for war — unless both parties take difficult and painful actions to avert it."

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Gideon Rachman.“Destined for war? China, America and the Thucydides trap.” Financial Times, March 30, 2017.