Shared prosperity will defeat the clash of civilizations
By Wang Shanshan
Why is it important to discuss the future of civilizations at this point in time? It reminds people of the “quest of the times” idea put forward by China’s President Xi Jinping at last year’s Boao Forum for Asia, where he said, “In an ever-more complicated world, where is human society heading? Where is the future of Asia?”
A view of the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations themed flower garden is showed in downtown Beijing on May 15, 2019. [Photo: IC]
The Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations that opened on Wednesday in Beijing tries to provide an answer. The pertinence and relevance of the conference is proven by recent worldwide arguments about clashes between civilizations. The most recent flare-up in this argument was provoked by the director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department, Kiron Skinner, who stoked controversy by claiming that competition between China and the United States was the result of a clash of civilizations, saying it's "a fight with a really different civilization and a different ideology."
The clash of civilizations hypothesis emerges every now and then. It originated from the American political scientist Samuel Huntington's main thesis, which he developed into a book. Huntington divides the world into eight major civilizations, and argues that people's cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post- Cold War world.
The argument has been criticized for touting cultural hegemony, and the emergence of this new iteration rings a bell. If we look at the history of the argument, it’s interesting to notice that those voices supporting the idea of a clash of civilizations all come from the Unites States. Every time the country is mired in a deep conundrum, be it the War Against Terror since 2001, or wrestling with China in the trade war, arguments about a clash of civilizations grow louder.
The practices of the United States reveal that civilizations can be weaponized. They can be used to divide the world, align allies, demean rivals, and lay the theoretical basis for further attacks. Kiron Skinner isn’t hiding the intention of the U.S. State Department to draft strategic plans to deal with China based on this hypothesis. This is dangerous not only for China-U.S. relations, but for the world at large. In a world filled with polarization, instability, and uncertainty, if the hypothesis of the clash of civilizations gets the upper hand, it might become a self-serving prophecy that drags the world into endless conflicts and chaos.
Visiting Greek President Prokopios Pavlopoulos, who is attending the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations, said the clash of civilizations argument being drummed up by certain people in the international arena is a huge mistake. And in his keynote speech at the conference, President Xi said there is no superior or inferior status when it comes to civilizations – they all shine in their own way. It is catastrophically stupid for one group of people to believe its civilization should dominate others.
Civilization is never the cause of clashes. Rather, it’s the scapegoat. Professor Huntington argues that future wars would be fought not between countries, but between cultures. However, in reality, clashes within a culture are far more frequent than those between cultures. The endless conflicts, even wars, between the Sunnis and the Shiites provide an example of this.
A vibrant civilization is never isolated; it’s outward looking. It’s never stagnant; it’s dynamic. It’s never closed; it’s inclusive. No civilization develops in isolation. Each civilization evolves by absorbing the virtues of other civilizations. The Chinese civilization has absorbed and learned from the ancient Greek, Roman, and Mediterranean civilizations, as well as from Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity that came to China through the Silk Road. That’s how the Chinese civilization has maintained its continuing strength and vitality for the past 5,000 years.
Connections between civilizations, rather than division, are the key to world prosperity. Differences can never be eliminated, nor should they be – they’re what makes the world such a colorful and versatile place. Our differences are not as important as our similarity, which is why it’s vital that we cast aside our pride and prejudice and uphold mutual respect and equality.
In response to the quest of the times that President Xi spoke about at Boao, China has put forth its plans for upholding mutual respect and equality, boosting self-confidence, sticking to the principles of openness and mutual learning, and ensuring that civilizations can grow with the times. Seeking goodwill with its neighbors and harmony with all nations is the Chinese way of engaging with the world. Attempts to weaponize the clash of civilizations are doomed to end in failure. We should let the drive for shared prosperity rule, so that we can live in a world full of diversity, integrity, harmony, and unity.
Note: Wang Shanshan is a current affairs Commentator for CRI and CGTN.