With Chinas growing influence over the global economy, and its increasing ability to project military power, competition between the United States and China is inevitable. Leaders of both countries assert optimistically that the competition can be managed without clashes that threaten the global order. Most academic analysts are not so sanguine. If history is any guide, Chinas rise does indeed pose a challenge to America. Rising powers seek to gain more authority in the global system, and declining powers rarely go down without a fight. And given the differences between the Chinese and American political systems, pessimists might believe that there is an even higher likelihood of war. I am a political realist. Western analysts have labelled my political views hawkish, and the truth is that I have never overvalued the importance of morality in international relations. But realism does not mean that politicians should be concerned only with military and economic might. In fact, morality can play a key role in shaping international competition between political powers - and separating the winners from the losers. I came to this conclusion from studying ancient Chinese political theorists like Guanzi, Confucius, Xunzi and Mencius. They were writing in the pre-Qin period, before China was unified as an empire more than 2,000 years ago - a world in which small countries were competing ruthlessly for territorial advantage. It was perhaps the greatest period for Chinese thought, and several schools competed for ideological supremacy and political influence. They converged on one crucial insight: The key to international influence was political power, and the central attribute of political power was morally informed leadership. Rulers who acted in accordance with moral norms whenever possible tended to win the race for leadership over the long term. China was unified by the ruthless king of Qin in 221 B.C., but his short-lived rule was not nearly as successful as that of Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty, who drew on a mixture of legalistic realism and Confucian soft power to rule the country for over 50 years, from 140 B.C. until 86 B.C. According to the ancient Chinese philosopher Xunzi, there were three types of leadership: humane authority, hegemony and tyranny. Humane authority won the hearts and minds of the people at home and abroad. Tyranny - based on military force - inevitably created enemies. Hegemonic powers lay in between: they did not cheat the people at home or cheat allies abroad. But they were frequently indifferent to moral concerns and often used violence against non-allies. The philosophers generally agreed that humane authority would win in any competition with hegemony or tyranny. Such theories may seem far removed from our own day, but there are striking parallels. Indeed, Henry Kissinger once told me that he believed that ancient Chinese thought was more likely than any foreign ideology to become the dominant intellectual force behind Chinese foreign policy. The fragmentation of the pre-Qin era resembles the global divisions of our times, and the prescriptions provided by political theorists from that era are directly relevant today - namely that states relying on military or economic power without concern for morally informed leadership are bound to fail. Unfortunately, such views are not so influential in this age of economic determinism, even if governments often pay lip service to them. The Chinese government claims that the political leadership of the Communist Party is the basis of Chinas economic miracle, but it often acts as though competition with the United States will be played out on the economic field alone. Both governments must understand that political leadership, rather than throwing money at problems, will determine who wins the race for global supremacy. According to ancient Chinese philosophers, it must start at home. Humane authority begins by creating a desirable model at home that inspires people abroad. In other countries, China must display humane authority in order to 'compete with the United States, which remains the worlds pre-eminent hegemonic power. Military strength underpins hegemony and helps to explain why the United States has so many allies. President Obama has made strategic mistakes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, but his actions also demonstrate that Washington is capable of leading three foreign wars simultaneously. By contrast, Chinas army has not been involved in any war since 1984, with Vietnam, and very few of its high-ranking officers, let alone its soldiers, have any battlefield experience. OVER the next decade, Chinas new leaders will be drawn from a generation that experienced the hardships of the Cultural Revolution. They are resolute and will most likely value political principles more than material benefits. These leaders must play a larger role on the world stage and offer more security protection and economic support to less powerful countries. This will mean competing with the United States politically, economically and technologically. Such competition may cause diplomatic tensions, but there is little danger of military clashes. Thats because future Chinese-American competition will differ from that between the United States and the Soviet Union during the cold war. Neither China nor America needs proxy wars to protect its strategic interests or to gain access to natural resources and technology. Chinas quest to enhance its world leadership status and Americas effort to maintain its present position is a zero-sum game. It is the battle for peoples hearts and minds that will determine who eventually prevails. And, as Chinas ancient philosophers predicted, the country that displays more humane authority will win. NY Times