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The "Thucydides Trap," cited by Chinese President Xi Jinping, refers to the warning by the ancient Greek historian that cataclysmic war can erupt if an established power (like the United States) becomes too fearful of a rising power (like China). But Trump also has to worry about the "Kindleberger Trap": A China that seems too weak rather than too strong.Charles Kindleberger, an intellectual architect of the Marshall Plan who later taught at MIT, argued that the disastrous decade of the 1930s was caused when the U.S. replaced Britain as the largest global power but failed to take on Britain's role in providing global public goods. Today, as China's power grows, will it help provide global public goods?At the global level, public goods – such as a stable climate, financial stability, or freedom of the seas – are provided by coalitions led by the largest powers.If pressed and isolated by Trump's policy, however, will China become a disruptive free rider that pushes the world into a Kindleberger Trap?Trump must also worry about the better-known Thucydides Trap: A China that seems too strong rather than too weak. For example, the political scientist Graham Allison has argued that in 12 of 16 cases since 1500 when an established power has confronted a rising power, the result has been a major war.
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