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'Thucydides Trap' avoidable, ambassador says

By HENG WEILI in New York | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-04-23 07:27

US students and teachers pose for a group photo with their Chinese hosts after playing ping-pong at Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School, Hebei province, on April 20. BAI LIN/XINHUA

China's ambassador to the United States does not believe the two countries have to enter the "Thucydides Trap", where an established power feels threatened by a rising power, which could lead to war.

On a visit to Harvard University, Ambassador Xie Feng had a fireside chat on Friday with Graham Allison, the professor who coined the term Thucydides Trap. Allison introduced the concept in his 2017 book Destined for War.

"In this globalized world, countries are not riding separately in some 190 small boats, but are sailing in one giant ship, sharing the same future. Only by pulling together can we find a way out, while pulling apart will only get us all drowned," Xie said.

"We will advance national rejuvenation through a Chinese path to modernization at home and promote world peace and development through building a community with a shared future for mankind internationally.

"Now that we have all realized the extreme danger of the Thucydides Trap, why should we still jump headlong into it? From the very start, China does not see the Thucydides Trap as inevitable," he said.

"We are willing to work with the US side based on the principles outlined by President Xi Jinping, namely, mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation, to promote the sound, steady and sustainable development of China-US relations, and jointly navigate around the trap. Is the US side also ready to do so?"

Xie said the historic summit between President Xi and US President Joe Biden in San Francisco last November has not only injected stability into the bilateral relationship, but also formed a future-oriented "San Francisco Vision".

Since the meeting, the two sides have maintained interactions at various levels and conducted dialogue and cooperation in areas including foreign policy, economy and trade, law enforcement, agriculture and military-to-military relations.

On the fentanyl issue and other issues of concern to the US, China has fully shown its sincerity for cooperation, the ambassador said.

But dialogue and cooperation should be reciprocal and based on mutual respect, and one cannot focus on their own interests in the process, he said, adding that he hopes that the US side will take "earnest actions" to implement the two presidents' important consensus on issues of concern to the Chinese side.

The two leaders agreed that both sides should hold consultations on national security boundaries. They have started such consultations, but little progress has been made over the past six months.

Xie said although the US side agreed to hold such consultations in principle, it has been reluctant to go into detailed discussions. And when pressed, it would claim "national security is not negotiable".

"This is not a responsible attitude," the ambassador said.

Xie noted that there is indeed competition between the two nations.

"The Chinese people do not shy away from competition, but any competition must be fair. It should be like competing for excellence in a racing field, not beating one another in a wrestling ring," he said.

"What the US side is having in mind, though, is not competition, but bullying. By slapping sanctions on Chinese companies according to its own domestic law, the US side is basically keeping Chinese players out of the game even before it starts.

"The US side has also forced other countries to ban exports of certain devices and technologies to China, for instance, lithography machines. This is just like asking others to run barefooted or on straw slippers, while one wears high-tech track shoes in a race," he said.

"But even when barefooted, some top Chinese players, such as producers of electric vehicles, lithium-ion batteries and photovoltaic products, have managed to take the lead."

But the US side, however, accuses them of being "over competent", causing "overcapacity" and posing a threat to other contestants, demanding they quit the game.

"This is not fair," he said.

Xie said the relationship should not be defined simply by competition. "If we allow competition to dominate China-US relations, it would only give rise to strategic risks. No one would come out as a winner," he said.

It would be "self-deluding" to suppress and encircle China in the name of competition on one hand, and try to manage competition and avoid direct conflict on the other, he said.

"If we only aim at the minimum goal of avoiding conflict in China-US relations, then we would not be far away from going into one," the ambassador said.

In response to a question on the Belt and Road Initiative, Xie said China has always adhered to the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits in advancing BRI cooperation, so as to facilitate the revitalization of all countries and inject momentum into common development.

Narratives debunked

He said the BRI is not a geopolitical tool, but a widely popular, global public good. Instead of being intended for bloc confrontation, it is an open and inclusive platform for international cooperation.

Citing the success of the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway, the envoy stressed that the fruitful outcomes of Belt and Road cooperation have proved again that high-quality industrial capacity is not excessive globally and can generate more effective demands and boost economic growth.

He said the facts have debunked narratives smearing and spreading doom and gloom about the BRI.

Xie said an obsession with hegemony is not in China's DNA.

"Assuming China would surely tread the old path taken by traditional Western powers is a serious miscalculation, and those believing' strength determines the intention' are basically imposing their mindset on others," he said.

Xie said China will always be a member of the developing world and is ready to share those dividends with other countries.

Xie also stated China's positions on anti-espionage law, nuclear policy and bilateral economic ties.

Foreign nationals have no reason to worry about their security as long as they abide by the law in China, he said.

On nuclear policy, he pointed out that China is firmly committed to a self-defensive nuclear strategy. China has pledged not to use nuclear weapons first, and follows a policy of not using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states and nuclear-weapon-free zones unconditionally.

He said China stands for the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons worldwide. On bilateral economic and trade relations, the ambassador stressed that such ties are essentially mutually beneficial.

"A trade war serves no one's interests," Xie said. "Ultimately, American consumers will pay the cost, American businesses will suffer losses, the international economic and trade order and global industrial and supply chains will be rattled, and the global recovery will be dragged down."

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