Xi Jinping is convinced that the United States is in decline. Joe Biden has no doubts about China’s claim to become the hegemonic superpower soon. Evidence in hand for Beijing: the Trump presidency, the management of the covid, the crisis of liberal democracy, Brexit and the Aukus as exponents of the division between the allies and especially the catastrophic exit from Afghanistan. And for Washington: the undemocratic coup in Hong Kong, the crackdown on the Uighurs, the growing defense spending, the occupation of reefs in foreign territorial waters in the South China Sea, the strategic investments of the New Route of the Silk or the concentration of power in the hands of the president.
It is Thucydides’ trap, the equation of the political scientist Graham Ellison inspired by the Peloponnesian war, narrated by the Athenian military man and historian. “When an ascending power threatens to displace the power in place, the alarms sound about the danger that is approaching,” he says in the book Destined for War: Can the United States and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap? Joe Biden and Xi Jinping deny both the ineluctable trap and the incipient cold war, but both remain unfazed, moving the pieces on a collision course.
The current novelty is not so much the players as the board on which the game is played. The previous three of the twentieth century, the two bloody world wars and the subsequent cold war, were played in Europe: in all three the rising power, the United States, was the definitive winner. This 21st century is played in Asia and there is a new challenger, seated in the center of the board. If before everything revolved around the territorial control of Eurasia, according to the equation of the classic geopolitics Harold McKinder (who controls the territorial heart controls the world), now the axis of the hyper-communicated global world is maritime and is found in the surrounding seas of China. .
Beijing’s war diplomacy no longer hides its cards. He wants the United States and the Europeans to leave, to leave the western Pacific and leave their allies alone. Translate the Monroe Doctrine into Chinese: Asia for Asians. Taiwan, the equivalent of Berlin divided during the cold war, must fall like ripe fruit, as war classics advise, reaching excellence when it is won without firing a single shot.
It is understood that the Europeans are offside and that only France, with its nuclear force and its territorial presence in the Indo-Pacific region, still intends to bet on this new game of global power in which the model of society is played between the difficult democracy and the efficiency of one-party regimes.