Are the US and China Fated to Fight?
Are the US and China destined to fall into a “Thucydides trap” of power transitions leading to great power conflict? This study explores the psychological processes that underlie US-China relations today. In two randomized online experiments, we manipulated ordinary Americans’ perceptions of US-China relations with real CNN video clips that framed a possible US-China power transition as either positive or zero-sum. Across both experiments, more zero-sum news reports heightened perceptions of US-China competition, increasing intergroup mistrust, anger, and desires for a tougher China policy. Study 2 both replicated these findings and revealed that individual differences in nationalism and uncertainty avoidance moderated the effects of media framings on mistrust and anger. These experimental results provide insights into the psychological mechanisms linking structural changes in the balance of power to the individual-level processes that determine great power war and peace.
Peter Hays Gries is the Lee Kai Hung Chair and Director of the Manchester China Institute, and Professor of Chinese Politics, at the University of Manchester. He studies the political psychology of international affairs, with a focus on China and the United States.