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Graham Allison Suggests China, U.S. Cooperation Is Better Than a Nuclear War

April 3—The American geopolitician, Harvard Professor and Henry Kissinger protégé Graham Allison, who coined the phrase “Thucydides trap” for the so-called theory that history proves that war is the most likely result of a new power rising as an old power declines, is recommending that China and the U.S. had better prove that theory wrong.

Allison told China’s Global Times last week, in an interview published March 30, that China and the U.S. must “work imaginatively to find a new form of great power relationship,” because “our survival requires a degree of cooperation.”

He used the metaphor of “inseparable, conjoined Siamese twins” to explain. Such twins have “two heads. But they have the same nervous system or the same gastrointestinal system. If either of us were to strangle the other one, we commit suicide.” That, he argues, is "an accurate description of the conditions that the U.S. and China face today….

“We each have nuclear arsenals so robust that if either of us should attack the other in a full-scale nuclear war, we both die. That’s a pretty powerful reason not to have a war and not to let some other event or accident or miscalculation drag us into a war, whether in the Taiwan Straits or something in the South China Sea or wherever.”

Allison warned specifically that if the newly-elected leaders of Taiwan “would declare Taiwan to be independent and try to be serious about that, or if the U.S. were to support a Taiwan claim for independence, that would be highly likely to lead to a war between the U.S. and China, which might well become a wider war, then a nuclear war.”

Allison was in Beijing last week for a series of meetings with academics and government officials. That included participating in the hour-and-a-half meeting President Xi Jinping held March 27 with a group of U.S. businessmen, strategic experts and academics. Allison freely admitted he was impressed with how the Chinese leadership is approaching these problems.

“It was very clear—not only in the conversation with President Xi but also with Foreign Minister Wang Yi—they are actively thinking about how we can escape Thucydides’ Trap, and looking at examples in history, and ideas in philosophy. They have risen to the conceptual challenge. Since I’m a professor and somebody from the strategic community, I admire leaders that are prepared to be intellectually courageous in trying to deal with the problems that we face,” he told Global Times.

Allison proposed that a “whole huge cadre of Americans” should study in China, and Chinese students do likewise in the U.S., so each understands the other. The current U.S. State Department is actively working to discourage such arrangements, including through expelling Chinese who are studying here, claiming that they are spies.

Such ideas echo that last warnings made by his recently deceased mentor, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who, with his then President Richard Nixon, authored the opening of relations with Beijing, hoping to split them away from the Soviet Union and to counter Soviet power. 

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