One hundred years ago this month, Britain declared war on Germany. And though the issues of that era may seem irrelevant now, the pre-war tensions between those two nations can actually help us understand where today’s Sino-American relationship is headed. After all, though history never repeats itself exactly, as Mark Twain famously observed, it does rhyme. Or to put it another way, clear patterns recur when two rival nations are locked in a cycle of rise and decline.
Throughout history, those power transitions have almost invariably resulted in war — and the US-China relationship is in just such a transition. China clearly is on the rise. It has surpassed the United States as the world’s leading manufacturing state, the leading trading state, and the leading exporter. Indeed, according to one World Bank measure, China already has overtaken the United States as the world’s largest economy. That nation’s growing wealth is financing a big buildup of its military capabilities and fueling its geopolitical ambitions.