Abstract: The greatest danger to China, the United States and Russia is not each other; it is crises enabled by failures to collaborate with each other. The most dangerous types of crises are environmental crises, nuclear war, pandemics and financial crises. Unfortunately, such crises are becoming more interdependent in character. For example, a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan sparked in Kashmir will cause massive famine in southern China, which in turn will likely trigger a global financial crisis that devastates all major economies. If Japan and South Korea become nuclear weapons states because of fear of North Korea, so will Australia. Such a collapse of the nuclear nonproliferation regime will cascade further to greatly increase risks of accidental nuclear war in the Pacific.
China and the U.S. can work together to persuade Pakistan, India, Japan, South Korea and Australia not to behave in the ways just described. China and the U.S. working together can easily cool the belligerence of Pakistani generals. When great powers work against each other’s peace diplomacy, however, as with Russia and the U.S. in Syria, they have little prospect of preventing cascades of catastrophe.
With environmental, financial and health crises, Western and Chinese universities working together can contribute a great deal to collaborative R&D on crisis prevention, even when their states are competing rather than collaborating. While my argument is upbeat about the feasibility of doing this, it is downbeat that we will do enough of it to prevent cascading crises from ending all human civilizations in the next century or two. A Chinese collaborative diplomacy of crisis prevention, and warm Western responses to it, starting with U.S. President Joe Biden, holds a key to saving us all. China’s commitment to the Glasgow Climate Summit in December 2020 was the right first step of this journey.
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