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  • So, let me thank you for the opportunity to talk about

  • the biggest international story of your professional lifetime,

  • which is also the most important international challenge

  • the world will face for as far as the eye can see.

  • The story, of course, is the rise of China.

  • Never before have so many people risen so far so fast,

  • on so many different dimensions.

  • The challenge is the impact of China's rise --

  • the discombobulation this will cause the Unites States

  • and the international order,

  • of which the US has been the principal architect and guardian.

  • The past 100 years have been what historians now call an "American Century."

  • Americans have become accustomed to their place

  • at the top of every pecking order.

  • So the very idea of another country

  • that could be as big and strong as the US -- or bigger --

  • strikes many Americans as an assault on who they are.

  • For perspective on what we're now seeing in this rivalry,

  • it's useful to locate it on the larger map of history.

  • The past 500 years have seen 16 cases

  • in which a rising power threatened to displace a ruling power.

  • Twelve of those ended in war.

  • So just in November, we'll all pause to mark the 100th anniversary

  • of the final day of a war that became so encompassing,

  • that it required historians to create an entirely new category: world war.

  • So, on the 11th hour of the 11th day

  • of the 11th month in 1918,

  • the guns of World War I fell silent,

  • but 20 million individuals lay dead.

  • I know that this is a sophisticated audience,

  • so you know about the rise of China.

  • I'm going to focus, therefore, on the impact of China's rise,

  • on the US, on the international order

  • and on the prospects for war and peace.

  • But having taught at Harvard over many years,

  • I've learned that from time to time, it's useful to take a short pause,

  • just to make sure we're all on the same page.

  • The way I do this is, I call a time-out,

  • I give students a pop quiz -- ungraded, of course.

  • So, let's try this. Time-out, pop quiz.

  • Question:

  • forty years ago, 1978, China sets out on its march to the market.

  • At that point, what percentage of China's one billion citizens

  • were struggling to survive on less than two dollars a day?

  • Take a guess -- 25 percent?

  • Fifty?

  • Seventy-five?

  • Ninety.

  • What do you think?

  • Ninety.

  • Nine out of every 10 on less than two dollars a day.

  • Twenty eighteen, 40 years later.

  • What about the numbers?

  • What's your bet?

  • Take a look.

  • Fewer than one in 100 today.

  • And China's president has promised that within the next three years,

  • those last tens of millions will have been raised up

  • above that threshold.

  • So it's a miracle, actually, in our lifetime.

  • Hard to believe.

  • But brute facts are even harder to ignore.

  • A nation that didn't even appear on any of the international league tables

  • 25 years ago

  • has soared,

  • to rival -- and in some areas, surpass -- the United States.

  • Thus, the challenge that will shape our world:

  • a seemingly unstoppable rising China

  • accelerating towards an apparently immovable ruling US,

  • on course for what could be the grandest collision in history.

  • To help us get our minds around this challenge,

  • I'm going to introduce you to a great thinker,

  • I'm going to present a big idea,

  • and I'm going to pose a most consequential question.

  • The great thinker is Thucydides.

  • Now, I know his name is a mouthful,

  • and some people have trouble pronouncing it.

  • So, let's do it, one, two, three, together:

  • Thucydides.

  • One more time: Thucydides.

  • So who was Thucydides?

  • He was the father and founder of history.

  • He wrote the first-ever history book.

  • It's titled "The History of the Peloponnesian War,"

  • about the war in Greece, 2500 years ago.

  • So if nothing else today, you can tweet your friends,

  • "I met a great thinker.

  • And I can even pronounce his name: Thucydides."

  • So, about this war that destroyed classical Greece,

  • Thucydides wrote famously:

  • "It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta

  • that made the war inevitable."

  • So the rise of one

  • and the reaction of the other

  • create a toxic cocktail of pride,

  • arrogance, paranoia,

  • that drug them both to war.

  • Which brings me to the big idea:

  • Thucydides's Trap.

  • "Thucydides's Trap" is a term I coined several years ago,

  • to make vivid Thucydides's insight.

  • Thucydides's Trap is the dangerous dynamic that occurs

  • when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power,

  • like Athens --

  • or Germany 100 years ago, or China today --

  • and their impact on Sparta,

  • or Great Britain 100 years ago, or the US today.

  • As Henry Kissinger has said,

  • once you get this idea, this concept of Thucydides's Trap in your head,

  • it will provide a lens

  • for helping you look through the news and noise of the day

  • to understand what's actually going on.

  • So, to the most consequential question about our world today:

  • Are we going to follow in the footsteps of history?

  • Or can we, through a combination of imagination and common sense

  • and courage

  • find a way to manage this rivalry

  • without a war nobody wants,

  • and everybody knows would be catastrophic?

  • Give me five minutes to unpack this,

  • and later this afternoon, when the next news story pops up for you

  • about China doing this, or the US reacting like that,

  • you will be able to have a better understanding of what's going on

  • and even to explain it to your friends.

  • So as we saw with this flipping the pyramid of poverty,

  • China has actually soared.

  • It's meteoric.

  • Former Czech president, Vaclav Havel, I think, put it best.

  • He said, "All this has happened so fast, we haven't yet had time to be astonished."

  • (Laughter)

  • To remind myself how astonished I should be,

  • I occasionally look out the window in my office in Cambridge

  • at this bridge, which goes across the Charles River,

  • between the Kennedy School and Harvard Business School.

  • In 2012, the State of Massachusetts said they were going to renovate this bridge,

  • and it would take two years.

  • In 2014, they said it wasn't finished.

  • In 2015, they said it would take one more year.

  • In 2016, they said it's not finished,

  • we're not going to tell you when it's going to be finished.

  • Finally, last year, it was finished -- three times over budget.

  • Now, compare this to a similar bridge that I drove across last month in Beijing.

  • It's called the Sanyuan Bridge.

  • In 2015, the Chinese decided they wanted to renovate that bridge.

  • It actually has twice as many lanes of traffic.

  • How long did it take for them to complete the project?

  • Twenty fifteen, what do you bet?

  • Take a guess -- OK, three --

  • Take a look.

  • (Laughter)

  • The answer is 43 hours.

  • (Audience: Wow!)

  • (Laughter)

  • Graham Allison: Now, of course, that couldn't happen in New York.

  • (Laughter)

  • Behind this speed in execution is a purpose-driven leader

  • and a government that works.

  • The most ambitious and most competent leader

  • on the international stage today is Chinese President Xi Jinping.

  • And he's made no secret about what he wants.

  • As he said when he became president six years ago,

  • his goal is to make China great again --

  • (Laughter)

  • a banner he raised long before Donald Trump picked up a version of this.

  • To that end, Xi Jinping has announced specific targets for specific dates:

  • 2025, 2035, 2049.

  • By 2025, China means to be the dominant power

  • in the major market in 10 leading technologies,

  • including driverless cars, robots,

  • artificial intelligence, quantum computing.

  • By 2035, China means to be the innovation leader

  • across all the advanced technologies.

  • And by 2049, which is the 100th anniversary

  • of the founding of the People's Republic,

  • China means to be unambiguously number one,

  • including, [says] Xi Jinping, an army that he calls "Fight and Win."

  • So these are audacious goals, but as you can see,

  • China is already well on its way

  • to these objectives.

  • And we should remember how fast our world is changing.

  • Thirty years ago,

  • the World Wide Web had not yet even been invented.

  • Who will feel the impact of this rise of China most directly?

  • Obviously, the current number one.

  • As China gets bigger and stronger and richer,

  • technologically more advanced,

  • it will inevitably bump up against American positions and prerogatives.

  • Now, for red-blooded Americans --

  • and especially for red-necked Americans like me; I'm from North Carolina --

  • there's something wrong with this picture.

  • The USA means number one, that's who we are.

  • But again, to repeat: brute facts are hard to ignore.

  • Four years ago, Senator John McCain asked me to testify about this

  • to his Senate Armed Services Committee.

  • And I made for them a chart that you can see,

  • that said, compare the US and China

  • to kids on opposite ends of a seesaw on a playground,

  • each represented by the size of their economy.

  • As late as 2004, China was just half our size.

  • By 2014, its GDP was equal to ours.

  • And on the current trajectory, by 2024, it will be half again larger.

  • The consequences of this tectonic change will be felt everywhere.

  • For example, in the current trade conflict,

  • China is already the number one trading partner

  • of all the major Asian countries.

  • Which brings us back to our Greek historian.

  • Harvard's "Thucydides's Trap Case File" has reviewed the last 500 years of history

  • and found 16 cases in which a rising power

  • threatened to displace a ruling power.

  • Twelve of these ended in war.

  • And the tragedy of this is that in very few of these

  • did either of the protagonists want a war;

  • few of these wars were initiated by either the rising power

  • or the ruling power.

  • So how does this work?

  • What happens is, a third party's provocation

  • forces one or the other to react,

  • and that sets in motion a spiral,

  • which drags the two somewhere they don't want to go.

  • If that seems crazy, it is.

  • But it's life.

  • Remember World War I.

  • The provocation in that case

  • was the assassination of a second-level figure,

  • Archduke Franz Ferdinand,

  • which then led the Austro-Hungarian emperor

  • to issue an ultimatum to Serbia,

  • they dragged in the various allies,

  • within two months, all of Europe was at war.

  • So imagine if Thucydides were watching planet Earth today.

  • What would he say?

  • Could he find a more appropriate leading man for the ruling power

  • than Donald J Trump?

  • (Laughter)

  • Or a more apt lead for the rising power than Xi Jinping?

  • And he would scratch his head

  • and certainly say he couldn't think of more colorful provocateur

  • than North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

  • Each seems determined to play his assigned part

  • and is right on script.

  • So finally, we conclude again with the most consequential question,

  • the question that will have the gravest consequences

  • for the rest of our lives:

  • Are Americans and Chinese going to let the forces of history drive us to a war

  • that would be catastrophic for both?

  • Or can we summon the imagination and courage

  • to find a way to survive together,

  • to share the leadership in the 21st century,