Shared prosperity will defeat the clash of civilizations

China Plus Published: 2019-05-15 16:56:32
Share this with Close
Messenger Messenger Pinterest LinkedIn

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]

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.

Related stories

Share this story on


LU Xiankun Professor LU Xiankun is Managing Director of LEDECO Geneva and Associate Partner of IDEAS Centre Geneva. He is Emeritus Professor of China Institute for WTO Studies of the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) and Wuhan University (WHU) of China and visiting professor or senior research fellow of some other universities and think tanks in China and Europe. He also sits in management of some international business associations and companies, including as Senior Vice President of Shenzhen UEB Technology LTD., a leading e-commerce company of China. Previously, Mr. LU was senior official of Chinese Ministry of Commerce and senior diplomat posted in Europe, including in Geneva as Counsellor and Head of Division of the Permanent Mission of China to the WTO and in Brussels as Commercial Secretary of the Permanent Mission of China to the EU. Benjamin Cavender Benjamin Cavender is a Shanghai based consultant with more than 11 years of experience helping companies understand consumer behavior and develop go to market strategies for China. He is a frequent speaker on economic and consumer trends in China and is often featured on CNBC, Bloomberg, and Channel News Asia. Sara Hsu Sara Hsu is an associate professor from the State University of New York at New Paltz. She is a regular commentator on Chinese economy. Xu Qinduo Xu Qinduo is CRI's former chief correspondent to Washington DC, the United States. He works as the producer, host and commentator for TODAY, a flagship talk show on current affairs. Mr. Xu contributes regularly to English-language newspapers including Shenzhen Daily and Global Times as well as Chinese-language radio and TV services. Lin Shaowen A radio person, Mr. Lin Shaowen is strongly interested in international relations and Chinese politics. As China is quite often misunderstood in the rest of the world, he feels the need to better present the true picture of the country, the policies and meanings. So he talks a lot and is often seen debating. Then friends find a critical Lin Shaowen criticizing and criticized. George N. Tzogopoulos Dr George N. Tzogopoulos is an expert in media and politics/international relations as well as Chinese affairs. He is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre International de Européenne (CIFE) and Visiting Lecturer at the European Institute affiliated with it and is teaching international relations at the Department of Law of the Democritus University of Thrace. George is the author of two books: US Foreign Policy in the European Media: Framing the Rise and Fall of Neoconservatism (IB TAURIS) and The Greek Crisis in the Media: Stereotyping in the International Press (Ashgate) as well as the founder of, an institutional partner of CRI Greek. David Morris David Morris is the Pacific Islands Trade and Investment Commissioner in China, a former Australian diplomat and senior political adviser. Harvey Dzodin After a distinguished career in the US government and American media Dr. Harvey Dzodin is now a Beijing-based freelance columnist for several media outlets. While living in Beijing, he has published over 200 columns with an emphasis on arts, culture and the Belt & Road initiative. He is also a sought-after speaker and advisor in China and abroad. He currently serves as Nonresident Research Fellow of the think tank Center for China and Globalization and Senior Advisor of Tsinghua University National Image Research Center specializing in city branding. Dr. Dzodin was a political appointee of President Jimmy Carter and served as lawyer to a presidential commission. Upon the nomination of the White House and the US State Department he served at the United Nations Office in Vienna, Austria. He was Director and Vice President of the ABC Television in New York for more than two decades.