China to put soft power on show as ‘clash of civilisations’ debate comes back to life


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China to put soft power on show as ‘clash of civilisations’ debate comes back to life


Source: South China Morning Post    Published: 2019-5-15

Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to try to reassure Asia that China’s emergence will not threaten the existing world order when he opens a conference in Beijing designed to promote the country’s soft power.

Xi will deliver the keynote speech on Wednesday morning at the start of the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilisations, a one-day event being held alongside various cultural festivals and discussions on issues such as Asian governance.

Beijing has sought to present itself as leading the charge to overhaul global governance that has been dominated by the West.

“The conference ... focuses on the theme of exchanges and mutual learning among Asian civilisations and a community with a shared future,” the official website said.

Earlier this week, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the conference was a platform to promote exchange among cultures while showcasing the “charms of Asian civilisations”.

“Countries should champion the principles of equality, mutual learning, dialogue and inclusiveness between civilisations and reject the misguided and wrong belief of a ‘clash of civilisations’ or the superiority of one civilisation over others,” Geng said.

“Dialogue between civilisations is an essential guarantee for the peaceful coexistence of countries.”

State media have given the conference wide coverage in recent weeks, highlighting attendees such as Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Indian movie star Aamir Khan.

It comes just weeks after the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing and days after an escalation in the 10-month trade war between China and the United States.

It also comes after a senior American official described US strategic competition with China as “a fight with a really different civilisation and a different ideology”.

Late last month, US State Department director of policy planning Kiron Skinner reportedly told a forum in Washington that: “It’s also striking that it’s the first time we will have a great power competitor that is not Caucasian.”

Skinner said her views overlapped with American political scientist Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” idea, which suggests that fundamental differences between civilisations will be their main source of conflict.

Skinner’s remarks drew a strong rebuke from China’s foreign ministry, which called them a “simply absurd and utterly unacceptable” way to look at China-US relations.

Promoting the conference last week, Xu Lin, deputy director of the Communist Party’s Publicity Department, also slashed out at Skinner, saying people who spread such views would “lose public support and are doomed to fail”.

Nevertheless, there is no link between the conference and the state of China-US relations, according to Wang Wen, executive dean of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University.

“There is no need for a specific China-US civilisation dialogue, since there have consistently been dialogue and negotiation mechanisms between the two countries,” Wang said.

“The differences between China and the US are how to deal with conflicts of interest in their development and how to respect each other. I don’t think it is a conflict between civilisations, but rather conflicts of interest and sharing [of power] as a result of the rise of a new major power.”

Renmin University international relations professor Wang Yiwei said China started planning the conference last year but it was still a chance for China to contribute to the current civilisation debate.

“The rise of US unilateralism has hurt the world including US allies. Hence Washington has opted to present its conflicts with China as a clash of civilisations hoping that will help bring Western allies to its side,” he said.

“China’s strategy is always to let you fight your way and we fight our own way. China is hosting this event hoping to find the shared value for closer cooperation among Asian countries.”

Wang Wen is executive dean of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. Wang Yiwei is senior fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.