The article below is an excerpt from a lecture that Qiao Liang, a professor at China National Defense University, gave at the 2015 Summer Industry Investment Forum. The article was first published on Huanqiu (Global Times). Later a top Chinese military newspaper website www.81.net and many other top Chinese websites republished it.
“The famous American geopolitical strategist Brzezinski has brought back the theory of the ‘Thucydides trap.’ Brzezinski believes that China and the U.S. are about to fall into the Thucydides trap. Americans once again remind the Chinese people of this. The purpose is nothing more than to let the Chinese people recognize their own strength and status and so they do not fall into the plight of challenging the United States, which would result in the two sides killing each other. Today, times have changed. Not every instance of a great powers’ rise will experience an occurrence of the Thucydides trap. A zero-sum game is not the only choice for great powers’ competition. At least when the U.S. took over the dominating power from Great Britain, the U.S. itself avoided sinking into the Thucydides trap.
“What do China and the U.S. truly need to be alert to today? It is not China challenging the U.S. in the Thucydides trap. Rather, it is the United States launching a ‘boor-style fight’ against China because that might lead to China’s fighting back in the same ‘hard-hard’ way. Some Chinese scholars believe that, since China’s current focus is to develop the ‘one belt and one way’ strategy, [China] should not be in direct confrontation with the United States on the South China Sea issue. Otherwise China might lose big for a penny. In my opinion, there are two scenarios in the ‘losing big for a penny’ situation. One is penny wise and pound foolish; the other is losing the cavalry because of the loss of a horseshoe, then losing a battle because of the loss of the cavalry, and then losing the war and finally losing the entire country. In the current South China Sea, I think China is in the situation of the second scenario. If China retreats from the South China Sea under pressure, it is by no means just losing a horseshoe.
“Now China’s ‘one belt, one way’ strategy is about to roll out. The South China Sea is one of its starting points. More importantly, being eager to manufacture a dispute in the South China Sea, the United States has a profound strategic intent, which is certainly not simply to safeguard the freedom of the sea. In Europe, by using the Ukrainian event, the United States has successfully manufactured dissension between the EU and Russia. Now, with the crisis in Greece, the United States is having a battle with Europe for international capital. At the same time, the U.S. also hopes to drive capital away from China and China’s neighboring areas. The Americans placed a lot of ‘bombs’ around China for this purpose, e.g., the Diaoyu Islands, the Huangyan Island, and the Hong Kong ‘occupy central’ movement. Unfortunately [for Americans], none of these bombs exploded. The United States finally had to start action on its own, coming to the South China Sea to pressure China. Contrary to the Americans’ expectations, the China-sponsored Asian investment bank was established at this time. Not just in Asia, many other countries have also stood behind China one after another. Even America’s hardcore British ally also joined the bank. How could some Americans not get angry as a result? In addition to accusing the British of being traitors, the U.S. is creating a tense atmosphere in the South China Sea. What the U.S. is seeking is not hard to understand. In this case, could China retreat? Once it retreated, domestic public confidence in the government’s authority would plummet and global investors confidence in China might ebb. Therefore, China can never retreat because, at the moment, the South China Sea issue is both about ‘face’ and about ‘everything else.’
“It is foreseeable that the grand strategy game between China and the U.S. will revolve around ‘one belt, one way’ to develop. To this, we must have a clear understanding. In today’s global economic crisis, it is not a time [to find out] who is better than whom; it is the period to find out who-is-more-rotten. China’s economic fundamental, compared with other countries, is relatively better. If China can hold on, the United States may become hopelessly rotten [ahead of China]. China’s stock market ‘distress’ this time could be a stress test in advance and the release of the crisis ahead of time. From the perspective of the long term, it is not a bad thing. Especially, if we once again hold steady in our position after rescuing the market, the prognosis can be expected.”
Source: Huanqiu, republished by 81.net July 13, 2015 http://www.81.net/pinglunjingxuan/2015/0G4592942015.html