The Traps Have Sprung? Sino-American Challenges for Hegemonic Leadership
In an ambivalent twist of foreign policy, the Trump administration reordered Washington’s stance towards Beijing. In the wake of its tense relationship with China, the United States has abandoned much of its international leadership. There were high hopes of renewed American commitment to the international order when Joe Biden was elected in November 2020. The prospect for a greater international guidance from the Biden administration has yet to lead to a cohesive policy. In contrast, under the strong hand of Xi Jinping, China has taken a more decisive role in international affairs. It remains to be seen, however, if the rest of the world is ready to follow in China’s footsteps. This state of affairs leaves us in the uncomfortable situation where we must assess two daunting traps facing the future of the international system. On one hand, reminiscent of Thucydides’ trap, we face the possibility of an escalation of tension that could inexorably lead to a direct confrontation between the two superpowers. On the other hand, an even less appealing scenario would take the form of a rudderless world bringing back painful memories of the 1930s. In this paper, we assess these two eventual consequences of the Sino-American confrontation, as well as possibilities of escaping those traps.
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