U.S. official's "clash of civilizations" worldview rejected as misleading, harmful

Chen Zhuo
2019-05-13 09:59:17

WASHINGTON, May 11 (Xinhua) -- The recent public invoking of "clash of civilizations" worldview by a high-ranking U.S. diplomat failed to capture the essence of U.S.-China relations and should raise concerns, U.S. experts told Xinhua.

At a security forum last week, U.S. State Department Director of Policy Planning Kiron Skinner analogized the unfolding China-U.S. competition to "a clash of civilizations," claiming it is "the first time we will have a great-power competitor that is not Caucasian."

Skinner's remarks were immediately met with criticisms at home as U.S. experts blasted her remarks for being deeply flawed and dangerously misleading.

Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Xinhua that the "clash of civilizations" frame is unproductive and "risks sounding arrogant and hostile."

"There are cultural and political and religious and other differences (between the United States and China). But we have many common interests, and most of the differences aren't absolute," said O'Hanlon.

The problem with the "clash of civilizations" worldview is that the idea puts an explicit emphasis on what divides different peoples, suggesting that the division is intractable, said the expert.

Rather, the United States and China share common interests in improving prosperity of their people, O'Hanlon added.

"We should give the Chinese governments of recent decades credit for improving the quality of life of their citizens and alleviating poverty," he said. "Like the Chinese, we also value economic prosperity and progress, and a reduction in poverty rates."

According to Douglas Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington should not put Skinner's thinking into policy making; otherwise, it would be "truly unhelpful."

"The (U.S.) administration has struggled to identify a strategy rather than to list its complaints. I do not know whether they are capable of organizing a strategy with any chance of viability," said Paal.

The prestigious China expert suggested that where possible, Washington should "employ cooperation" with Beijing.

He also urged all observers to "remain calm and offer constructive suggestions" for the sake of U.S.-China relations.

Darrell West, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, noted that the United States has dealt with many countries with differing backgrounds and cultures and not turned it into a cultural fight.

It is crucial that Washington and Beijing let dialogues flow between the two sides to make sure that current disputes would not further escalate.

Escalation "would be harmful to both countries," West warned.

A number of U.S. experts have also voiced online their disagreement with Skinner's remarks.

Abraham Denmark, director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, tweeted that if Skinner's remark "accurately reflects the State Department's thinking on China, it suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of both China itself and the challenge we face."

"There seems to be an assumption of competition as an end in itself, which is not a good recipe for an effective strategy," Denmark added.

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