Can a Thucydides trap be prevented?
By Joe hung
June 17, 2013, 3:44 pm TWN
Thucydides was a Greek historian and Athenian general. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the fifth century B.C. war between Sparta and Athens to the year 411 B.C. He is known as the father of scientific history, whose Melian Dialogue remains a seminal work of international relations theory still studied at advanced military colleges worldwide.
Classical Athens was the centre of civilization. Philosophy, history, drama, architecture, democracy — all beyond anything previously imagined. This dramatic rise shocked Sparta, the established land power on the Peloponnese. Fear compelled its leaders to respond. Threat and counter-threat produced competition, then confrontation and finally conflict. At the end of 30 years of war, both states had been destroyed. Thucydides wrote of these events: "It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable." The rise of China has caused fear in the United States. Professor Graham Harrison of Harvard University thinks the rise of Hitler's Germay caused the fear in Great Britain and the United States before the Second World War, and describes the danger America may fall into as Thucydides's trap.
America's danger of falling into the Thucydides trap was first broached when President Barack Obama met with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao at the White House last year. Hu's successor, Xi Jinping, met Obama at Sunnylands Estate near San Jose on June 7-8 for an informal summit to allay the American fear. A Thucydides trap may be circumvented.
Washington's fear has been translated into its pivot to Asia, which China considers a new American containment, like the one the United States carried out against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. China's peaceful rise, which the United States does not regard as peaceful after Beijing started to have territorial disputes with Vietnam over the Paracel Islands as well as the Spratly Islands, with Japan over the Senkaku Islands — known as the Diaoyu Islands in Chinese — and with the Philippines over some small Spratly islands. The Republic of China claims sovereignty over all these islands, and stations a Coast Guard garrison of Taiping Island, the largest of the Spratlys. China is beefing up its army so as to become a new regional military power.
As a result, the People's Republic is a threat to the American dominance in Asia. Under the pivot initiative, the United States has increased its naval and air force presence in Asia by more than 60 percent. Economically, the United States is taking the lead to reform the Trans-Pacific Partnership sans China for another containment by trade. There is the imperative need of the ruling power to beat down the challenger.