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The decline of major global empires has frequently rested upon an act of strategic naïvety. Such an action or decision, although innocuous at the time, results many decades later in those empires collapsing. History is punctuated by examples of great powers that have misjudged the intentions of a rising power, leading to a highly adversarial relationship. Such unintended consequences can be seen in United States policy towards China, which has allowed Beijing to emerge as a clear competitor that is threatening to usurp US hegemony. This article considers these dynamics across seven major empires, dating from ancient Carthage circa 814 BC to modern day Pax Americana. By connecting the past to the present, we find that comparable acts of strategic naïvety by other empires are now increasingly evident in current US-China relations, and which have often occurred for similar reasons.