3 April 2024

Henry Huiyao Wang and Graham Allison in Conversation on Escaping Thucydides’ Trap


Hi, this is Yuxuan Jia in Beijing. On Friday, March 22, 2024, the Center for China & Globalization (CCG) held a book launch event to release the English edition of the book "Escaping Thucydides’ Trap: Dialogue with Graham Allison on China-US Relations", published by Palgrave Macmillan, as well as its Chinese edition, published by CITIC Press Group. The book launch was followed by an engaging discussion between Henry Huiyao Wang, editor of the book & President of CCG, and Prof. Graham Allison, Founding Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense. This was their third collaboration within the CCG's Global Dialogue series, with the previous sessions held in April 2021 and March 2022.

Five days after the CCG event, Prof. Allison was welcomed by President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People. During this meeting, Xi Jinping elaborated on the meaning of the phrase “You are in me, and I am in you,” a concept also acknowledged by Professor Allison in today's transcript. According to Xinhua, Allison told Xi that "The 'Thucydides's Trap' is not inevitable."

The CCG Update today presents a transcript of the discussions between Dr. Wang and Prof. Allison at the event, as the latest episode of CCG's Global Dialogue series, as well as the Q&A session between Prof. Allison and Chinese media.

"Escaping Thucydides’ Trap: Dialogue with Graham Allison on China-US Relations", launched at the Mar. 22 event at CCG, presents a comprehensive collection of Allison’s views and writings on US-China relations from 2017 to 2022, covering a range of topics including the balance of power between the two sides, where the relationship is headed, and lessons from history on how conflict can be avoided. The book also includes an introduction and afterword by Dr. Henry Huiyao Wang, editor of this volume.

The event garnered extensive coverage from multiple media outlets, including Beijing Daily, China News Service, Pheonix TV, Bejing News, China Review News Agency, and China's Diplomacy in the New Era (dplomacy.org.cn). It was also promoted through the official WeChat blog of the Chinese Embassy in the U.S.

To ensure wide accessibility, CCG broadcasted the event live across various Chinese online platforms such as WeChat, Weibo, Douyin, Kuaishou, Baidu, and Bilibili. The video recordings of the event, both in English and Chinese, are available on YouTube and CCG's official WeChat blog.

Conversation between Henry Huiyao Wang & Graham Allison

Henry Huiyao Wang

Good afternoon and good day! We're going to start our CCG Global Dialogue. Since 2021, we actually have made almost 100 dialogues with different global opinion leaders and great global thinkers, and Graham Allison has been twice on our CCG Global Dialogue. So we're pleased again today to welcome you to CCG and have another occasion to have a global dialogue with Prof. Graham Allison on the occasion of this new book, Escaping Thucydides’s Trap: Dialogue with Graham Allison on China-US Relations. So it's really fascinating.

For Graham, we probably don't need any more introduction for the present audience. But I think for the online audience, I want to introduce him again. Prof. Graham Allison is the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at Harvard Kennedy School. He's the "Founding Dean" of Harvard Kennedy School, which was visionary for doing that. He is the former director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Also, Prof. Graham Allison has served in a key position in the government of the U.S., including the Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Clinton Administration and also a special advisor to the Secretary of Defense under President Reagan. So he has also continued advising the government. Of course, Prof. Graham Allison is a big fan of China and he has traveled many times to China. He has been to CCG and I have been able to work and talk with Prof. Graham Allison for the last decade and more. Just recently, we met almost every month. We met in Davos, at the Munich Security Conference, now March at CCG.

So today we're going to talk about this book. Prof. Allison's famous work, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap? was published in 2017. His view has generated enormous global attention and global debate, but also global awareness of how dangerous it could be if we did not follow the right path of avoiding this conflict. So we have published this book largely based on our dialogues, but also many thoughts that Graham has published recently in the interviews and articles. So the book is actually, to introduce how we can find ways to escape the trap. Also, we published that in both Chinese and English. Today is the occasion that we have published it for both editions, with thanks to Palgrave Macmillan and CITIC Press for collaborating on this great book.

So Graham, now we will come to you. In your presentation just now, you talked about competition and cooperation, and you gave an assignment for all of us to do. We hope we will do that. We are now living in a very different world. Of course, we are living in a nuclear age. I remember last time when we talked with each other, you mentioned that, this is very dangerous if we're not careful enough to go into the hot war, Boston will be gone, Beijing will be gone, and Washington will be gone. You are famous for your thesis on the Cuba Crisis, a nuclear crisis at that time. We're still in the nuclear age and we're currently having two wars in the world. So it's more significant now to escape the Thucydides's Trap. Given the contemporary conditions - and of course, a lot of people also say that maybe talk of Thucydides's trap is going to take us into the self-fulfilling prophecy - but seriously, how can we make people more aware of this? What are the real risks that are facing us, particularly with this Ukrainian War and Gaza war going on? How do you see the world today? Are we on the brink of a WWIII now? Thucydides’s trap is really getting close now, so how can we assess the global situation and avoid Thucydides’s trap? So Graham, please.

Graham Allison

Again, thank you, Henry and CCG for such a good job in producing the book. I was surprised when reading through it how coherent you have made the answers to the questions. I appreciate that.

I know many Chinese very well, but I don't know in a broad sweep, how many Chinese have much appreciation of history. In the U.S., it's often said we live in the United States of Amnesia. People think if something didn't happen in my lifetime, it couldn't happen. So if you say, well, you know, there could be a war. No, no, wars are obsolete. How about a real war in Europe? Most Europeans couldn't believe it until all of a sudden, they found Putin invading Ukraine. And now, as you saw at Munich, there's this kind of wake-up going across Europe as people think, oh my God, there really are tanks and planes and missiles; they're exploding and killing people and destroying. So again, the idea of a great power war seems...I mean, when I talk to students at Harvard: oh, that couldn't happen; it hasn't happened in my lifetime, as if that was the dispositive. Or it hasn't happened even in my parents' lifetime. So that means it couldn't happen? No, absolutely no. Or how about nuclear weapons and the use of nuclear weapons? That must be obsolete or that's forbidden or it is taboo? Tabbos are never broken? Well, I would say it's very hard to get people to think seriously about the clearly real, undeniable risks in the international security environment.

So was it a real serious threat when Putin began talking about conducting tactical nuclear weapon strikes on Ukraine back in October, November 2022 after the invasion? But then, once installed, the American intelligence community concluded the chance was about fifty-fifty. So there's about a 50% chance that Putin would have conducted nuclear strikes. The Chinese intelligence community, I don't know what they could have put it. But in any case, they thought about this in a collaborative action between both the U.S. and China. Xi Jinping then issued a public warning saying, "We oppose any threat or use of nuclear weapons". And before he made such a public statement - this was when Chancellor Scholz was here in November of 2022. He obviously called Putin, with whom he has a very close relationship, and said, I've thought about this; I think this is not a good idea, not a good idea for China. And my wishlist, working with the US government on the side, the thing I wished for most was that China would suggest to Putin why this was a bad idea. So that's another interesting example of how certainly thoughtful, serious leaders are taking seriously the possibility that one thing could lead to the other, that would lead to a war, even a great power war.

A second example is the fact that Biden and Xi met in San Francisco in the midst of a campaign in which there's obviously no political advantage to being friendly to China. Indeed, there's every political advantage for who can best China more dramatically. But Biden took out a long day to spend with Xi Jinping in which they would talk privately about what they really thought mattered. And that included war, Taiwan, AI, climate, and the overall relationship. We don't know even all the topics. We certainly don't know what they said to each other. Again, I regard that as great. If you're gonna have serious relations between the countries, you have to have private, candid, secure conversations between them, starting with the leaders.

And if I now watch and see what happened since that meeting, you can infer a little bit about the conversation. So we've been through a very rocky period over Taiwan with the elections and the election of a new president who has many inclinations towards trying to declare a more independent Taiwan. But if I watch the behavior of both the Chinese government and the American government, it's been very restrained, almost as if it has been choreographed a little bit. Well, I usually try to read the tea leaves and see what to interpret. I interpret from that again that we had two leaders, both serious about the problem work, their way through.

So I would say I worry a lot about the ways in which misunderstandings, misperceptions, miscalculations, and some third party's provocation could end up dragging people to a place they don't wanna go. And that's why again, I think it's been so important that the Biden-Xi conversations have continued and then what's followed from that was similar conversations among trusted agents on both sides, including now these working groups. So I'm feeling somewhat more optimistic about the situation currently. Sorry, that's a long answer.

Henry Huiyao Wang

No, that's great. You have a very good vision and answer to the current crisis we're facing, but also how important China, the U.S., and the top leaders talk to each other and get on the same wavelength in terms of how to cooperate.

One thing I'd like to follow a bit further. You actually mentioned in that list that you ask everyone to think about - and I think it's a great list - incentives to cooperate. I think that, for example, we're living in a really intertwined world as President Xi said, you are in us and we are in you - we cannot separate. Now the current global situation is that there are more common objectives or common interests to bind all the parties to talk to each other.

You remember when we were at the Munich Security Conference three times in a row, we talked about climate change. So climate change is probably the threat No.1 facing mankind. And then we have the pandemic we just finished - we haven't cooperated and that has caused big casualties for all of us. And of course, we're having the digital world now. We now have AI and all those things.

So how do you think can we get better cooperation? Maybe we should have a new international mechanism, a multilateral system? Or maybe now we're talking about a multi-polar world, but yet there's no multi-polar system to support that? So in order to create more incentives to cooperate, what should we do more or what can we work on toward cooperation particularly between the U.S., China, and the EU as the three largest economies in the world? Like we just said in Munich last month, the three largest economies, and the three largest in political influence, should take some examples to work together so that we don't talk about the differences but about similarities and the common challenges. What do you think?

Graham Allison

Yeah, I agree. I think the reasons for working through this exercise are both what are the reasons why I'm gonna be a fierce competitor, but then also the list on the backside, what are the reasons why I'm gonna be a serious cooperator or serious partner is to start with our interests. When I start writing down my hierarchy of interests, the core interest of each state or the leader of each state is to ensure the survival of their state. So if my survival depends on your survival - I mean, it's really I am in you and you are in me.

I've used the analogy in America, there's what we call inseparable, conjoined Siamese twins. Imagine two human beings, which just happen in nature from time to time, are born. And Henry and I have the same GI system, two heads, two brains, but literally joined inseparably. So if that's true, however frustrating my behavior is, however dangerous my behavior is, however deserving I am to be strangled, when you think about it, you think, "By strangling him, I may have a minute of satisfaction, but then I will have committed suicide." That's a pretty powerful reason not to do and find some way to cooperate.

So I would say I worked down the interest. First, no great war, especially no nuclear war because at the end of that, everything is destroyed. And at the climate - it's as what you said - if either of us can make the climate inhabitable for both of us, you and I have to find some way to cooperate and constrain them. And it's not only the two. We just happen to be the two most important economies and the two most important societies. Obviously, we have to take into account some of the others.

I'll go down the list. How about the financial system? The financial system today is so entangled that in 2008 when Wall Street created a financial crisis that produced a great recession in the U.S., the world was teetering on the edge of a Great Depression. And why was that avoided? Because cooperation between the U.S. and China had a joint stimulus, each a huge stimulus. And Hank Paulson, who was the Secretary of Treasury at that time, and who was the principal actor on the American side, has said frequently that he thought the Chinese action was at least as important as the American stimulus. So again, a Great Depression would not be the end of the world. It's not as bad as a nuclear war. But the Great Depression is pretty terrible. If you remember the Great Depression of the 1930s, that provided the environment in which emerged Nazis, fascists, and the forces that ended up leading to WWII. So there's one.

Now, pandemic, as you said, if a virus like COVID emerges somewhere and it will again for sure, the impact on all the societies is real. The interest therefore is in having early identification in the COVID story. The Chinese scientists published a genome sequence within six days or something. That was necessary for the story of the creation of vaccines. Again, that was not sufficient cooperation in my view.

I think if we worked down that list, we have a lot of reasons for thinking that countries can cooperate. But I think that in the world in which things are "either-or" or black and white, that doesn't quite work, which is why I think it's so important that we realize the complexity of the situation and find their ways to some conceptualization that doesn't deny that it's gonna be fiercely rivalry-some on one hand and deeply cooperative on the other.

Henry Huiyao Wang

Thank you, Graham, excellent. You have these vivid examples. Particularly, you mentioned Hank Paulson when he was the Secretary of the Treasury. When we had this toll in the financial crisis, we actually worked together. I mean, that's how the G20 got established. China had a 4 trillion stimulus package even if China had a bit of a problem. Even also during the early Asian financial crisis, China didn't devalue the RMB. So absolutely, we're in the same boat. 190 countries, like President Xi said, we're in the same boat. We think and float together, so we have to work with each other. Now given the time, I have a last question before we open to the journalist friends. I received your article - you sent it to me when it was published on Foreign Affairs - with Henry Kissinger, his last piece, a great article co-authored with you. Actually, that was published before the San Francisco President Xi and President Biden summit. You and Kissinger were very visionary in proposing this AI cooperation. AI can be a double-edged sword.

So, what's your advice now for the future? I mean, that has already been brought to the attention of both governments to talk about. Maybe the world should be paying more attention? Also, I really appreciate your mentioning Kissinger in your presentation. Dr. Henry Kissinger has passed away. Where's the new Kissinger? We look to you and others like Hank Paulson and maybe others to really steer through the Sino-US relations with more constructive national voices. We are really appreciative that you and Kissinger made this AI awareness of the governments between China and the U.S. particularly. We hope that we can continue to identify the risks and propose all those constructive proposals in the future. So maybe your last answer for the discussion.

Graham Allison

Thank you. As I mentioned, I first became a student of Henry Kissinger's way before most of the people here were born. I enrolled in his class when I was a graduate student at Harvard in 1965. The joke was, for Henry's hundredth birthday, there were several parties. People would occasionally give toasts and so forth. And he was introduced as the longest-suffering continuing education professor at Harvard while I was the slowest-continuing education learner. And I said that I was proud of that. I continued learning from him all those years. And I never had any encounter with him that I didn't learn a lot. Then we became colleagues and friends and even co-authors, as you said.

He had become obsessed by AI as a new phenomenon that he thought it would be as challenging for society as nuclear weapons had been when he was a young person working on these topics. And he knew that they were very different. When he became interested in this, he was about 95 years old. When he told me he was gonna do this, I said to him, Henry, don't think about this; you have enough things to think about; this is a whole new arena. He said, no, I'm thinking about it. Fortunately, Eric Schmidt, the guy who had been the chief executive of Google and who had been interested in AI, agreed to become like a tutor for both Henry and me. So we learned a lot, but still about a millimeter deep, not very deep. Nonetheless, I think he rightly identified the possibilities of applications of AI. They could have seriously catastrophic consequences for not only each society but for mankind.

So how do you put your head around that? Well, the article struggles with that and suggests that on the one hand, it's tempting to say this is impossible. Never has a technology advanced at such a rate as AI is currently advancing. I had lunch today with one of the AI leaders here in China, trying to understand how he sees what's happening. Certainly, if you look at the American story, companies are doing everything they can to jump ahead of the other. So this is different from nuclear. But nonetheless, if you go back 80 years when nuclear weapons were first introduced, the question of what was gonna happen and how, whether they could be controlled, and whether there was gonna be nuclear Armageddon...all those were the similar questions.

And lo and behold, as a result of strategic imagination, statecraft, intuitiveness, over the last 78 years, we've not seen a single nuclear weapon used in war. It's an amazing accomplishment. The job is not fixed, not completed, but an amazing working progress. And there's not been a great power war - again, historically unprecedented. So I think trying to reflect on lessons learned in that story both for inspiration and for insights is what the article challenges us to do. Now, fortunately, Xi Jinping has been interested in AI already for a long time. He and Henry (Kissinger) had talked about this a couple of times earlier. So they had a very serious conversation about it in the visit in August. And that informed this piece that we wrote and helped nudge the meeting that occurred.

And it seems to me that in that meeting and the conversations, they were clearly two serious leaders who take the challenge seriously. They agreed then to encourage early conversations both between some of their trusted agents because obviously in China, the Chinese government is trying to make sure that in the development of AI, there're no rogue actors applying this in a way that could have catastrophic consequences for China. And the U.S. government is trying to do the same thing. So obviously we have common interests in this, talking about what you're doing, what am I doing and what works and what doesn't work.

In the nuclear arena, even though the U.S. and the Soviet Union, at the time when they were superpowers and they were deadly adversaries, they could agree that it would be better if there were not more nuclear weapon states. So basically, the non-proliferation regime limited the number of new nuclear weapon states to prevent a world nuclear anarchy. Now today, they are two AI superpowers, but they slowed the development of AI or the proliferation of AI, especially large language models that could have the most dangerous applications - maybe, maybe. That would be difficult but not impossible. So it seems to be that this is a topic that needs to be pushed ahead in the conversations. And there will be, as there already are, some Track-II conversations, there'll be academics working on it in both China and (the U.S.)

I was at Tsinghua this morning. was there, has been part of this conversation. So I would suspect that's the path ahead. And if the nuclear analogy is helpful in the early conversations between the parties, they were very exploratory. Though they didn't lead to any particular conclusions, they helped each other see how each was seen and understand the vocabulary, to see what ideas they had. So I would say is that - at least, I would hope - that's what I would see going forward.

Henry Huiyao Wang

Okay, great. I think this is really visionary you and Henry Kisser proposed this AI concept. Also I'm glad that President Xi and President Biden talked about that. President Xi also talked to Henry Kissinger, as you mentioned. So this is really getting attention from the world. And if the U.S. and China can collaborate on that to prevent the side effects, we will probably be in a better and safer world. So thank you. We hope that you will carry on this Kissinger spirit and be a great supporter, promoter, and of course, great contributor to the America-China relations.

So I think we've probably concluded the dialogue part, which is a dialogue about our new book, Escaping Thucycides' Trap. Prof. Graham Allison joined this CCG book launching event. I'm Henry Wang, founder of Center for China and Globalization and thank all of you for coming. And before I leave - I know you talked about Henry Kissinger's birthday - you have a birthday tomorrow, as I heard. We have a panda gift for you. So we'll give it to show our appreciation for your coming to CCG.

Graham Allison

We're looking forward to the pandas returning.

Henry Huiyao Wang

That's right. Yes.

Live Q&A between Allison and Chinese Media

Yuyuantan Tian玉渊潭天, China Media Group (CMG)

Hello, Dr. Graham. I'm a reporter from China Media Group. I noticed that recently the U.S. House of Representatives passed the TikTok Divestiture Bill and the US government also continued to restrict the Chinese technology industry, which also influenced the new energy vehicles.

So what do you think of the competition between the Chinese and the U.S. government? The next question is, what do you think can be done to avoid this Thucydides' Trap? Thank you.

Graham Allison

In the technology arena, we should expect the rivalry to become more intense. One sees that in part in the attempt by the US to constrain the exports of the most advanced semiconductors, which is already having some impact on the development of AI here in China. That's because, in many arenas, the U.S. and China will be fierce rivals, each attempting to be ahead of the other as far as it can be. So I would say that's the rivalry part that's almost inevitable.

In the EV space or in the green technologies, it seems we've got more interest in it because, basically, thanks to its own industrial policy and the innovation and operations of its own companies, China now essentially owns everything green and clean. Well, I wrote a piece actually - I don't think it's in this book, but it was after - called "The America's Green Future will be Red" (Will America’s green future be Red?). If you look at every green technology, China produces 70% or 80% of the inputs to it. For example, solar batteries. Last year, China installed more solar panels in China than the U.S. installed in the U.S. in the whole 25 years in which the U.S. has been installing solar panels. Absolutely amazing. Actually, what China did this year in renewable technologies was such a great leap forward that it's quite likely that, as opposed to the target, which had been to peak the greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, that goal might be met by 2025, maybe even sooner, maybe even this year, conceivable.

So that capability is great for the world. I mean, basically, Chinese solar panels are 70% cheaper than anybody else's. And therefore, the more they're used globally, the more this will reproduce energy without greenhouse gases, the better that is for the biosphere. That's on the one hand.

On the other hand, if you're a company, let's say, for example, an auto company in the U.S. or in Germany, and BYD wants to sell its EVs in the U.S. or Europe, well, excuse me, you can buy a BYD entry-level car, at least single, for less than $10,000 here in China. And what's the cheapest EV in the US? It costs about $27,000 or $28,000. So China mass produces or scale produces manufactured products as an ecosystem that's basically dominant. But the impact of that on other nation's economies, companies, and unions will lead to a lot of pushback.

So I would say that's another arena where there's these balance and tradeoffs. So I'm expecting a future in which there will be very fierce competition and constraints, debates and discussion will probably, even in the same way that - there's a good book that has been published this year called "Chip War" - there'll be another book called "EV War", "Green War", "Tech War". There'll be competition and rivalry, and that will have to be balanced. You would like to say, well, let's just get over it. We're not gonna get over it, it's gonna be a struggle. But you need to be balanced by the recognition that at the same time we're rivals, we're also interdependent partners. Now I would say that's my bet about the likely future.

Phoenix TV

Thank you, Prof. Allison. My name is Emily from Phoenix TV. We noticed the U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns has recently described the relationship between China and the US as a battle of ideas. But we also know the US scholar Mearsheimer has long warned these kinds of ideological claims are a great illusion of the U.S.

So I'm just wondering, what do you think? What eventually are the two countries competing about? The second question is, what do you think is gonna happen if former President Donald Trump takes office again?

Graham Allison

Another easy question. So two very different questions, but the battle of ideas or the ideological conflict or the systems' conflict is complicated, and easily gets too frequently oversimplified. President Biden describes it as "the battle between democracy and autocracy". I don't think that quite captures the (essence), but I think there is ultimately a battle of ideas about how to organize and govern a society.

So Xi Jinping believes that governing a complex society like China requires a party-led - I would put in my terms - autocracy, or a more authoritative system in which the Party has basically the leadership vanguard and plays a critical role in leading the society in order to create sufficient order, in order to have a successful society. And that story is playing out. And if you look at the story of China's spectacular growth over the past generation or two, it's been pretty impressive. Nobody can deny it.

The American story is a different story. So whereas Chinese put order as this Xi Jinping leadership, and Chinese tradition puts order as kind of a simple political idea, the American society's been built on a different idea that puts individual liberty as the central idea. And the American Declaration of Independence declares universally, that all human beings are created are endowed by their Creator with "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." So that means everybody, Hong Kongese, Taiwanese, Chinese, Indians, Africans. everybody.

And Americans have been historically pretty persistent in trying to promote those ideas, even though they have been struggling to realize them at home. So that's been the struggle within the society. So I think that in fact there are competing ideas there, my resolution or my suggestion about that is that as long as the U.S. and China compete peacefully in the world in which they are coexisting, each to show which model can better govern your society and better produce what people want, that seems to me to be a reasonable issue. And whether given the complexities of the 21st century, and the absolute overload of information and misinformation with social technologies and all the various media, whether a society like the U.S. can actually remain unified or ends up becoming so sharply divided or can function successfully as opposed to being dysfunctional which our government has certainly been recently, or, on the other hand, whether the Chinese system falls victim to the traditional weaknesses and failures of an autocracy because it becomes more insecure, becomes more controlling, and becomes more cautious, and therefore more limiting of the imagination and innovation that comes from a more open and freer society, we'll see.

My suggestion about this has always been we should let the experiment play out in 10 years, 20 years, 50 years. It may turn out that everybody agrees to be governed more like this. And maybe 50 years from now, everybody agrees it needs to be more like that. I'm sorry, that's not a very concise answer.

And Trump, another big wild card. So for most of you, you probably are having trouble believing that Donald Trump will be the nominee of the Republican Party for election in 2024. Certainly, most Americans have been very slow to wake up to the fact. Henry mentioned it, and I mentioned it, both of us in Munich.

The elephant in the room was this idea that, wait a minute, is Trump real? Could this be happening? Is this America? What the hell is going on? This was basically the question over and over. And I would say, yes, it's real. Trump will be the Republican nominee. If the election were held today, it's essentially a toss-up. He's actually slightly ahead in most of the swing states.

So if he should return to office, then I think this will be a very different relationship. And I think we saw the first installment of that in his first term. But in this first term, you had a president who hadn't really figured out how government worked and had in the government many people who were traditional American foreign policy types like say, James Mattis, the Secretary of Defense whom Trump found frustrated him because he would want something to happen but Trump hadn't figured out how to cause it to happen. The system resisted him. I think this time, it would be likely to have lieutenants who are more loyal and would be able to do more of the things that he intended to do. And so I would say, again, if Thucycides was watching, he would say that, stay tuned. Yes.

Beijing News

Thank you, Prof. Allison. I'm from the Beijing News. I have a question also about the U.S. elections. So what's your anticipation for the relations between China and the United States in the year 2024, as we all know the relations tend to be much more fragile in the election year than in other normal years? And you just shared your view on what would happen if former president Donald Trump was reelected. So what would happen if President Biden was reelected? Would there be some more positive policies toward China since he's already had four years in office? Thank you.

Graham Allison

Very good questions. Thank you. That gives me an opportunity to say something that I wanted to say. So let me be precise here.

Though I've said to several people already, I want to apologize as an American for what you're likely to see in the year ahead. The U.S. has entered what Americans call our "silly season", in which case the hyperbole that's so common in political discourse already, becomes so extreme that connection between what comes out of politicians' mouths and reality almost disconnects. Unfortunately, that's true for both candidates, for both campaigns.

In the case of this 2024 campaign, one thing almost everybody can agree on is bashing China. So you're gonna hear lots of terrible, nasty things said about China by the two candidates, by candidates for the Senate, by candidates for Congress. So you can hardly get in trouble in the U.S. for saying something nasty about China. These people seem to compete to see who can be tougher on China than the other guy.

And what I say to Chinese colleagues in the government and outside, especially for people in the press, you have to remember, Americans are strange and American campaigns are unusual. So Americans are people that engage in American football games, in which two people who know each other well, on the opposite teams, play for 60 minutes, trying to crush the other person violently, and then at the end of the game, put their arms around each other and go and have a beer. I have some Chinese students at Harvard. They said, this is crazy; you can't have one hand slapping someone and the other hand hugging them. And I said, normal people maybe don't do that, but Americans do. So it's a pretty strange behavior.

So here's the one consolation in that picture. Remember, however nasty anything is that's said by either candidate, Trump or Biden, each will say even nastier things about their American opponent. I'm not trying to excuse this or justify it, but when you hear someone say something about Xi Jinping or China that you think, wait a minute, this is just over the top, watch and see what they say about their American opponent, it will be even more extreme. Again, I'm not trying to justify, I'm just trying to explain so we gonna understand the context.

For the second question, let me go back to the point I made earlier. I think in the San Francisco meeting, and in what the Chinese government calls "the spirit of San Francisco" that's followed, you get a pretty good picture of Biden, and what he believes about the relationship between the U.S. and China. Though he did not like the fact that the relationship was spiraling downwards, he began a mid-course correction after halfway through his term that began at Bali where he and Xi had, again, a very good conversation. This is back in the fall of 2022. It was then the balloon incident. That blew things, of course, for a bit, but which then was recovered in the first meetings between Jake Sullivan and Wang Yi, and then by Biden and Xi in San Francisco.

So I believe their serious private, candid conversation was about building not a floor, as I said, but a foundation for a stable, sustainable relationship going forward. They'll have a big chunk of competition and rivalry, with a big chunk of cooperation and partnership. And I think they're each both struggling as their governments are struggling to find ways to articulate that, which is another reason why, as Henry and I were talking earlier, I think this is an opportunity for people in the analytic community, both in China and in the U.S., to try to help appreciate that the reality does really require that both of these things are gonna be happening at the same time. It's gonna be very uncomfortable; it's gonna be messy. But it is still how Wu and Yue got to the shore, okay? If you're in me and I'm in you, I don't want to commit suicide, you don't want to commit suicide, so we're probably gonna find a way to coexist.

Phoenix New Media

Thank you, professor. I'm Harry from Phoenix New Media and I'm a colleague of Emily. So I also went to the Munich Security Conference this year and I'm very interested in Professors' Climate MAD (mutual assured destruction). I think it's a good concept. It's popular maybe in part of elites or policy-makers. But I think for the populists, especially the climate skeptics like Donald Trump, they would not buy it.

So how do you turn a wonderful concept into action? Thank you.

Graham Allison

I think first, it will help to have both in the analytic community and in the press discussion of what means Climate MAD. Most people don't quite get it. I think now, today, most people agree climate is a serious threat. Those people agree that we need to take major actions to deal with greenhouse gas emissions. But most people still haven't quite got to the point that John Kennedy got to after the Cuban Missile Crisis. They say, wait a minute, we live on a very small planet. This is a little teeny planet, and it's in an enclosed biosphere. And it's just a physical fact that my greenhouse gas emissions and yours go into the same biosphere. It doesn't really make much difference which one of us emitted the greenhouse gases. The impact is the same on both of us. And either of us could, on the previous trajectory, make the whole thing really uninhabitable for both of us. That would be crazy. So that's a pretty powerful motivation.

And I think actually the government is recognizing that motivation. China dramatically have now taken it seriously, advancing the technologies that will allow human beings to meet their energy demands, which are going to meet one way or the other, by renewable alternatives that don't have such climate consequences.

So I think this is an area in which I think there's general public recognition but where one could make more intelligible what the potential risks are, and why, as I say frequently, China made a great leap for mankind in advancing green technologies at prices that could be affordable globally, that allow people to meet energy demands with fewer greenhouse emissions. I would say the same thing in the U.S. So from the US side, Biden certainly gets the idea, and a substantial part of what is the Inflation Reduction Act is about is setting very ambitious targets for greenhouse gas emissions, and then trying to develop the technologies or trying to deploy the technologies that'll make this possible.

So that's the good news side of it. But as we go back to the earlier question, the bad news side is that each will care about whether China makes the technology advances or the U.S. does. Well, if it's made and both of us can use it, that's great. So I always say to people, suppose a vaccine or a medicine was invented in China that would help my wife who had a disease recover, I will give thanks to whoever did it. So those are advances for mankind. But at the same time, they have distributional consequences about which will end up struggling. Biden can get it. It's a great example where if my survival requires, well, that's pretty compelling. And that should constrain unreasonable competitive instincts. But I think the balance will be the challenge for leadership. So I think in Biden and Xi Jinping, we have leaders who understand that.

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