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The China Sleepwalking Syndrome

Summary:
If the Sino-American relationship were a hand of poker, Americans would recognize that they have been dealt a good hand and avoid succumbing to fear or belief in the decline of the US. But even a good hand can lose if it is played badly. CAMBRIDGE – As US President Joe Biden’s administration implements its strategy of great power competition with China, analysts seek historical metaphors to explain the deepening rivalry. But while many invoke the onset of the Cold War, a more worrisome historical metaphor is the start of World War I. In 1914, all the great powers expected a short third Balkan War. Instead, as the British historian Christopher Clark has shown, they sleepwalked into a conflagration that lasted four

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If the Sino-American relationship were a hand of poker, Americans would recognize that they have been dealt a good hand and avoid succumbing to fear or belief in the decline of the US. But even a good hand can lose if it is played badly.

CAMBRIDGE – As US President Joe Biden’s administration implements its strategy of great power competition with China, analysts seek historical metaphors to explain the deepening rivalry. But while many invoke the onset of the Cold War, a more worrisome historical metaphor is the start of World War I. In 1914, all the great powers expected a short third Balkan War. Instead, as the British historian Christopher Clark has shown, they sleepwalked into a conflagration that lasted four years, destroyed four empires, and killed millions.

Back then, leaders paid insufficient attention to the changes in the international order that had once been called the “concert of Europe.” An important change was the growing strength of nationalism. In Eastern Europe, pan-Slavism threatened both the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, which had large Slavic populations. German authors wrote about the inevitability of Teutonic-Slavic...

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