A Chinese General's View on Whether China Is a Challenge to America

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According to Thucydides, an Ancient Greek historian and author of "History of the Peloponnesian War," the rise of a big power is usually accompanied by a mortal war against the ruling power. It was the rise of Athenian power and the fear it inspired in Sparta that ultimately made the Peloponnesian War inevitable. That is the "Thucydides' Trap" people have been worrying about.

Recent studies by Harvard University scholars also indicate that since 1500, 11 of 15 cases of power transition between rising and ruling powers ended in war.

Why will China's rapid progress and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation transcend the historical fatalism of the "Thucydides' Trap"? Why is it possible for rising China and the present-day world's sole superpower, the United States, to avoid an all-round showdown in the form of war?

This is not the outcome of China's one-sided benign wishes. Nor is it the outcome of the mercy and benevolence of the hegemonic United States. The essential changes in the conditions of our time make it possible for the transition of power between China and U.S. to be peaceful. And it has to be peaceful.


There are two unprecedented realities in our time: The first significant reality is that, in contrast to the mutually isolating and antagonistic relations between big powers in the past, globalization has deepened the mutual interests of countries. This is particularly true of those of the major powers which are increasingly interdependent.

The global village is increasingly becoming a community of common destiny. The development of all countries are closely interconnected. One country's gain may not necessarily be others.' But one country's loss will definitely not just be its own.

Though China's progress has inspired fear of the decline of American hegemony, the United States has at the same time pinned its hopes on China's tremendous market in order to escape its economic crisis.

Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs and famous scholar Joseph Nye wrote in a recent article that the increase in contemporary power should be looked at from a "positive sum", rather than "zero sum," perspective. "There may be times when a more powerful China is good for the U.S. (and for the world)," he wrote.


The decline of American hegemony is definitely not caused by China. Just as British scholar Arnold Toynbee pointed out, the decline of an empire derives from its excessive outward expansion and worsening internal troubles. Instead of a challenge to the United States, China's development is winning both time and space necessary for the soft-landing of American hegemony.


The second significant reality of our time is that, thanks to scientific and technological progress, the development of means of war has surpassed the purpose of war. The efficacy of war is on the decline.

As a military superpower, the United States has world's largest war apparatus. America's stock of weapons of mass destruction alone suffices to destroy humanity dozens of times. And once is enough to annihilate us all.

Despite the considerable gap between Chinese and U.S. militaries, China's existing defense forces and strategic counterstrike capabilities suffice for equivalent destructive counterattacks against any aggressor that seeks to harm its national security and core interests by force.

In spite of its military superiority, the United States has no guarantee that it can escape destruction or unaffordable consequences when attempting to destroy others. It is safe to say there will be no winner in an all-round war between China and the United States.

China's ascent would surely suffer a severe blow. But it will also be out of question that American hegemony will become a thing of the past. This certainly is not the outcome the Americans want.

Nothing can hold back China's advancement and the nation's rejuvenation. China will continue to grow stronger. But the increase in China's strength constitutes no threat or challenge to any country.

China has neither the interest, nor the need, to fight the United States for hegemony or leadership. China just wants to realize its dream of national rejuvenation, bid farewell to its humiliating modern history, and truly become a country of national strength with harmonious ethnic relations and a happy and content populace.

American suspicions over a stronger China are thus unwarranted. As long as one can abandon historical biases, the mutual opportunities of the broad Pacific can be seen right before one's eyes. The great countries and nations of China and the United States have every reason to avoid facing each other on a collision course, escape the historical fatalism of confrontation between big powers, and to maneuver a win-win scenario together.

Of course, this entails strenuous endeavors by the cool-headed and far-sighted healthy forces on both sides. The Chinese wings of goodwill calls for an American counterpart to fly high.

Peng Guangqian is a Major General and Deputy Secretary-General of China's National Security Forum.

This piece also appeared on China US Focus.