Beware the Guns of August—in Asia

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    How to Keep U.S-Chinese Tensions From Sparking a War

    Beware the Guns of August—in Asia

    We are often enjoined to remember the lessons of history. The truth is history rarely repeats itself in precisely the same form. But for the nationalists in both Beijing and Washington who may not realize how serious the stakes have become, a good weekend read would be my compatriot Christopher Clark’s book on the failures of crisis management and diplomacy in 1914, evocatively titled The Sleepwalkers.

    The core lesson in the events leading to World War I is that a relatively minor incident (the assassination of an Austrian archduke in Sarajevo in late June 1914) can escalate into a war between great powers in a matter of weeks. Clark’s graphic account is one of relentless escalation, inadequate diplomacy, and crude nationalism, along with a disbelief by populations and leaders alike that actual conflict was even possible—until the “guns of August” grimly proved otherwise.

    For the United States, the China challenge is real and demands a coherent, long-term strategy across all policy domains and in coordination with allies. It also requires a new framework for the U.S.-Chinese relationship, one based on the principles of “managed” strategic competition: political, economic, technological, and ideological competition with mutually understood red-lines, open lines of high-level communication to avoid an accidental escalation, and defined areas of global cooperation where it is mutually advantageous (such as on pandemics and climate change). But the foremost task now is to safely navigate the next several months, to avoid stumbling into conflict in the midst of a presidential campaign in the United States and a period of contested internal politics in China. Leaders on both sides should remember that nationalistic jingoism tends to become more muted after the shooting starts

    I commend all to read it in its entirety


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