WASHINGTON – The recent public invoking of "clash of civilizations" worldview by a high-ranking US diplomat failed to capture the essence of relations between China and the United States and should raise concerns, according to US experts.
At a security forum last week, US State Department Director of Policy Planning Kiron Skinner analogized the unfolding China-US competition to "a clash of civilizations," claiming it is "the first time we will have a great-power competitor that is not Caucasian."
There are cultural and political and religious and other differences (between the US and China). But we have many common interests, and most of the differences aren't absolute.
Michael O'Hanlon, Senior fellow, Brookings Institution
Skinner's remarks were immediately met with criticisms at home as US 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 US 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 US 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 policymaking, warning that it would be "truly unhelpful."
"The (US) 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 US-China relations.
Darrell West, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, noted that the US 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," warned West.
A number of US 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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