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America’s Superpower Panic

History suggests that a global superpower in relative decline should aim for a soft landing, so that it still has a comfortable place in the world once its dominance fades. By contrast, US President Donald Trump's incoherent, confrontational approach toward China could seriously damage America’s long-term interests.

BERKELEY – Global superpowers have always found it painful to acknowledge their relative decline and deal with fast-rising challengers. Today, the United States finds itself in this situation with regard to China. A century and a half ago, imperial Britain faced a similar competitive threat from America. And in the seventeenth century, the Dutch Republic was the superpower and England the challenger.

History suggests that the global superpower should aim for a soft landing, including by engaging with its likely successor, so that it still has a comfortable place in the world once its dominance fades. Sadly, US President Donald Trump is no historian. And his incoherent, confrontational approach to China could seriously damage America’s long-term interests.

Like Britain and the Dutch Republic before it, America is the world’s dominant military power, and its reach is global. It has some of the world’s most productive industries, and dominates global trade and finance.

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