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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
Glued to a 2,400-year-old script, the U.S. and China seem to be on the same war-bound path that great powers have taken since Sparta fought upstart Athens.
Driving the news: A year ago, Harvard professor Graham Allison ignited a global debate by suggesting that the U.S. and China are not acting out, or even necessarily making their own decisions. Instead, he said that with their brinksmanship, they are succumbing to an inexorable, invisible force prodding them to almost inevitable war.
Allison calls this the "Thucydides Trap," after the Athenian general-historian. For five centuries, he wrote in "Destined for War" (now out in paperback), war has almost always resulted when a rising nation challenges the existing great power.
"If Thucydides were watching, he’d likely say all parties almost seem to be competing to show who can best exemplify the role as rising power, ruling power, and provocateur."— Graham Allison
The big picture: The elevated U.S.-China tension is a primary thread running through this period of unusual geopolitical turbulence, in which a populist wave is challenging institutions and accords that make up the "liberal world order."
In an Oct. 4 speech, Vice President Pence all but declared a new cold war, accusing China of interference in the midterms in a campaign for regime change — to elect "a different American president."
Chinese President Xi Jinping himself has rejected Allison's theory:
Richard McGregor, a long-time China hand with the Lowy Institute, said that he finds more current relevance in another Thucydides maxim — that while it is dangerous to build an empire, it is even more dangerous to renounce it.
The bottom line: Almost no one expects trade alone to lead to armed U.S.-Chinese conflict. Rather, the biggest danger, Allison says, is that — as the slaying of Archduke Franz Ferdinand triggered WWI — the two countries will be pulled into conflict by miscalculation involving a third party, such as Taiwan.
Manufacturing in China. Photo: AFP/Getty
President Trump appears to be trying to decouple the American and Chinese economies, but he may be largely too late.
What's happening: China's push to own the Big Tech future, and make what it needs at home — what Xi calls "Made in China 2025" — is in part an effort to inoculate itself from Western politics. The next time the U.S. decides to sanction Chinese tech, the impact will be cushioned.
What they're saying: The greater problem will arise if Trump tries to bring U.S. allies in Asia into the same decoupling policy. "To the extent that the security of the United States is vulnerable to others’ choices of technology, the Trump administration may well force these countries and multinationals to make a choice between the United States and China," said Elizabeth Economy, a China expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The crown prince. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty
At minimum, the future of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman seems likely to be a significant weakening of his signature policy — a reform of the Kingdom's economy. And he will lose many of his hard-won friendships abroad, a casualty of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the widespread suspicion that he either ordered or was aware it would occur.
What to watch: Now the question is whether the Crown Prince maintains his hold on the throne as successor to his father, King Salman. That may hinge on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a regional antagonist, who says that he will reveal everything his country knows about the murder tomorrow.
"If the crisis deepens (for example if the alleged audio tapes comes out), then his internal position may grow more precarious," Croft tells Axios. "The internal workings of the house of Saud are very opaque, but the family seems to place a high premium on self preservation."
Be smart: Erdogan might release the tapes if, after a long crackdown against journalists, he likes finally being seen internationally as a good guy.
Others speaking with Axios on MBS's fate:
Voters in Miami, 2016. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images
In elections past, some Americans have waited 7 hours to vote, even when they chose to go to the polls early or used a precious vacation day. But change may be on the way, Axios' Erica Pandey writes.
Driving the news: This year, 44% of U.S. companies are offering employees paid time off to vote. That's a record high and up from 37% in 2016, per the Society for Human Resources Management.
Between the lines: Amid a backlash against Big Tech and peak mistrust in government — on both the left and the right — companies are under pressure to step up and demonstrate political leadership. This is one way they are doing so.