As tensions between China and the United States intensifies, the idea of a clash of civilisations is making a comeback.
U.S. facing off against a threat that is "not Caucasian"?
Popularised by American political scientist Samuel Huntington, it hypothesises that the main source of conflict in the post-Cold War world would come from fundamental differences in people's cultural and religious identities.
The idea reemerged recently when the American State Department policy planning director Kiron Skinner said at a forum in May 2019 that this is the first time the U.S. is facing off against a "great power competitor that is not Caucasian".
According to a video of her speech released by the forum organiser, Washington D.C.-based think tank, New America, Skinner said the "fight" with China is with a "really different civilisation and a different ideology".
And it is something that the U.S. has not had before, she said.
You can listen to her in the video below (timestamped at 9:34):
Came under fire for her comments
Skinner has since quickly come under fire for her remarks, with critics, such as Michael Swaine, a China specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, saying that her comments reflect a "rather appalling, racist-based assessment of the nature of the Chinese threat".
If accurate, this is a rather appalling, racist-based assessment of the nature of the Chinese threat. And coming from the State Dept. makes it even worse. Apparently the problem is not CN’s system; it’s Chinese culture? We sink to new lows every day. https://t.co/g9vpu80Web— Michael D. Swaine (@Dalzell60) May 1, 2019
Critics have also hit back at her argument that this is the "first time" the U.S. is confronting a non-Caucasian adversary, saying that the U.S. also fought against Japan -- an Asian country -- during the Second World War.
China rejected the idea Skinner raised
Shortly after the remarks were made, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang rejected the idea that the conflict between China and the U.S. is race-based.
"It is simply absurd and utterly unacceptable to look at bilateral relations between China and the U.S. from a clash of civilisations or even a racist perspective, which deserves every harsh rebuke and resolute opposition," he said.
He added that both China and the U.S. "stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation", and that "cooperation is the only correct choice for both sides".
No race is superior: Xi
Chinese President Xi Jinping, in a forum called "Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilisations" held on Wednesday, May 15, seemed to make a pointed rebuke towards the remarks as well.
Although he did not name any country, he said nobody should think their race is superior.
"Thinking that one's own race and culture are superior, and insisting on transforming or even replacing other civilisations, is stupid in its understanding and disastrous in practice," he said.
He added that "civilisations need not clash with each other" and that the "beauty in all civilisations" should be seen.
The conference was attended by world leaders such as the presidents of Singapore, Sri Lanka and Greece, as well as the Cambodian king.
According to the BBC, the conference was seen as an attempt by Beijing to soften its image.
Beijing is facing growing criticisms abroad for its tight internet controls, its controversial projects under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as well as its treatment of ethnic Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.
Singapore's President Halimah Yacob also spoke at the conference, saying in her speech that Singapore's strength is in its diversity, which not only helps integrate the different communities in society, but also helps Singapore understand the differences in the world.
Top image via New China TV/YouTube