September 26, 2014
A New Type of Major Power Relationship?

by Cheng Li

Nixon's visit to China and the U.S.-China rapprochement was historically important in the context of the Cold War. It marginalized the Soviet Union, dramatically changed the global political and strategic landscape, and one could argue that it was not Ronald Reagan that ended the Cold War but rather Nixon and Henry Kissinger's visit to China. Since rapprochement and the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between China and the United States in 1979, there have been some important changes such as China's emergence as a major power and the second largest economy in the world.

When one thinks of an emerging power challenging an existing power in world history, particularly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but even as far back as the time of Thucydides, this has always caused some tension and a certain degree of uneasiness. It has resulted in what some international relations scholars call "hegemonic war," namely a major conflict between an emerging power and an existing power. However, prominent strategic thinkers such as Henry Kissinger argue that the world has changed and a Cold War mentality or a nineteenth-century mindset should not dominate our thinking. There are several reasons for this but most importantly we have entered an era of economic globalization that is unprecedented in terms of its scale and scope. This was not the case during the Cold War or in earlier periods of history. China is very much linked to the international system unlike during the Cold War era when it was very much separated from the rest of the world.


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