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The immediate theatre for the showdown is the huge expanse of the East and South China Seas.

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The Americans also have nearly 30,000 troops permanently stationed in South Korea and an implicit undertaking to defend Taiwan if China were to threaten the island separated from the mainland since the Communist victory of 1949. You’d have to believe in a flat Earth to think otherwise,” and he insisted this spring that his fleet will increase operations to assert freedom of navigation in the same sea.

Admiral Harry B Harris, the US commander in the Pacific, has said that China “is clearly militarising the South China Sea . Summit talks between Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping in late March and early April produced no agreement on the issue.

A US aircraft carrier was subsequently refused entry to Hong Kong Harbour for a port visit on 15 April.

In this case, the protagonists are China and the US.

In 2012 Hillary Clinton, the then US secretary of state, said that America and China needed to “write a new answer to the age-old question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet”. that a rising power and an existing power are in some manner destined for conflict”.

A year later, after a US-China summit aimed at producing understanding between the two powers, the national security adviser Tom Donilon said that the reformulation of the relationship was “rooted in the observation . According to Graham Allison, a professor of political science at Harvard, armed hostilities have been the outcome in 12 out of 16 past confrontations of this type in recorded history.

These include the long confrontation between the established power of France and the rising challenge of Britain in the early 18th century, as well as the wars between Germany and Russia, France and Britain between 19.

as it moved into the 12 nautical miles of territorial waters claimed by Beijing off its newly constructed base on Subi Reef, a speck of land in the Spratly Islands.

China has built a radar- equipped weather station and stationed 200 troops there but its claim is disputed by several east Asian countries – and by the United States.

The ’s course was deliberately plotted to affirm the right to “freedom of navigation” in what Washington regards as an international maritime area through which any ship should be at liberty to sail.

After a short delay, the Chinese sailors responded to the questions from their US counterparts, talking about their home cities, their families and the ports they had visited. The friendly conversation obscured a chilling fact: that these were crews of ships from two nations which, in some scenarios, are heading for an earth-shaking confrontation as they play out the “Thucydides Trap”, in which rising and status quo powers are bound to come into conflict along the lines of Athens and Sparta, as recorded by the ancient Greek historian.

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