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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: April 2014

6 - A New Peloponnesian War? China, the West and the South China Sea

from Part III - International Relations



The era of wild capitalist globalization has produced profound contradictions. Many of these involve potential conflict between the USA and China, including climate change, human rights, the struggle for access to natural resources and regulation of the global financial system. There has been increasing discussion in the West about the possibility of a new ‘Peloponnesian War’ between the United States and China. For example, Graham Allison of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University warned:

If leaders in China and the US perform no better than their predecessors in classical Greece, or Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century, historians of the twenty-first century will cite Thucydides in explaining the catastrophe that follows. The fact that war would be devastating for both nations is relevant but not decisive. Recall the first world war, in which all the combatants lost what they treasured most.

(Allison 2012)

Much international attention has focused on the possibility that the South China Sea might be a key channel through which a US–China conflict develops. From the point of view of the USA, and indeed the West as a whole, this would be a ‘quarrel in a far-country between people about whom we know nothing’ (Neville Chamberlain, cited in Kagan 2003, 2). However, the region is one about which a great deal is known in China. There are deep connections between the people of mainland China and the 30 million or so descendants of Chinese migrants who settled in Southeast Asia over the centuries.

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Re-Balancing China
  • Online ISBN: 9781783081622
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