The idea Allison was getting across—that managing relations between the United States and China is enormously important, and also very complex, and not guaranteed to turn out well—is built into the themes Henry Kissinger expressed to Jeffrey Goldberg in the interview in that same issue, and that I was explaining in my article, and that every U.S. president from Nixon through Obama has reflected upon and, with some variations, built into his policy toward China, the Koreas, Japan, Asia, and the world as a whole.
Reduced to three elements, this outlook would be:
- Relations with China really matter, for each country’s interests and for the world’s;
- They’re very complex and less obvious than they seem, in part because the Chinese government sees the world differently from the U.S. government in some important ways; and
- If poorly managed, they can lead to great danger, even the unlikely-but-conceivable disaster of military showdown. This is another way of stating the first point, with emphasis on the downside.