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Thread: US-China ties: It's not a clash of civilisations

  1. #1
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    Default US-China ties: It's not a clash of civilisations

    US-China ties: It's not a clash of civilisations

    Attempts by US policymakers to depict China as an existential threat to the West and their bid to contain and perhaps even defeat its values are misguided


    Fri, May 10, 2019


    TRYING to deconstruct President Donald Trump's foreign policy and national security agenda has become a full-time job for diplomats and pundits in Washington, DC, and in other world capitals.

    In fact, many of those studying the subject have concluded that there is probably no grand strategy when it comes to the current White House occupant's approach to world affairs; that there is no guiding geopolitical vision that could be described as a Trump Doctrine.

    Instead, there is a sense among American and foreign officials who interact with members of the Trump administration's foreign policy team that the current president makes most of his decisions in this area based on his gut feelings, responding on an ad hoc basis to outside pressures and evolving crises, and that he improvises a lot and adjusts to changing circumstances.

    Which explains why he would one day blast North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and threaten to nuke his country, and then on another day be exchanging "love letters" with his new pal from Pyongyang. If that does not make too much sense to you, then, well, that's your problem.

    Now, according to a top State Department official, we are finding out that while it is true that Mr Trump is not a regular consumer of policy papers and does not pay a lot of attention to what his experts tell him about this or that global development, that he tends to shoot from the hip and to muddle through, the president nevertheless does have a foreign policy vision that defines his presidency.

    Speaking early last month during a think tank event in Washington, DC, the director of policy planning at the State Department, Kiron Skinner, admitted that her top boss at the White House does not approach foreign policy and national security in a linear way or as part of a cost-benefit analysis.

    President Trump "probably has not studied international relations extensively" but he "provides the hunches and instincts", Ms Skinner explained, "and it's my job, and that of Secretary (Mike) Pompeo, to turn those hunches and instincts into hypotheses" that become eventually something akin to a "Trump Doctrine".

    "It is, in a kind of broad way, a set of pillars that address 21st Century realities," Ms Skinner added, citing among other things the "return to national sovereignty"; reciprocity in international relations and trade; "burden sharing" in defence; and "new regional partnerships". It's the National Interest, Stupid!

    But then Ms Skinner, switching from a focus on "national interest" to a discussion about "civilisation", seemed to drop a bombshell of sorts, suggesting that at the centre of the Trump administration's foreign policy agenda is the development of a strategy for China that would be based on the idea of "a fight with a really different civilisation" for the first time in American history.

    "This is a fight with a really different civilisation and a different ideology and the United States hasn't had that before," Ms Skinner asserted, suggesting that China posed a unique challenge to American interests and values and that it is not a product of Western history and culture.

    "The Soviet Union and that competition - in a way, it was a fight within the Western family," Ms Skinner pointed out, noting that communism had grown out of Western political ideas.

    "It's the first time that we will have a great power competitor that is not Caucasian," stressed Ms Skinner, who happens to be an African American woman and who seemed to have forgotten that in World War II the United States had fought a non-Western global power, Imperial Japan.

    She then added that because of this civilisational-racial differences, the Trump administration saw China "as a more fundamental long-term threat than Russia".

    "In China, we have an economic competitor, we have an ideological competitor, one that really does seek a global reach that many of us didn't expect a couple of decades ago."

    But this attempt to revive Professor Samuel Huntington's 1993 Clash-of-Civilizations vision of the international system and then to try to apply it to the US-China relationship does not make sense on several levels.

    First, the strategic-cultural concept developed by the late Harvard University political scientist proved to be a misleading predictor of developments in international relations and US foreign policy.

    Contrary to his forecasts, we did not see the rise of a unified Muslim bloc facing the United States and the West. Hence it not the clash between the West and Islam that is dominating the politics of the Middle East today; what is threatening the stability of the region is actually the conflict within the Muslim world, between Sunnis led by Saudi Arabia and the Shiites headed by Iran.

    At the same time, Russia is not actually a Western nation but one that combines both European and Asian traditions, and it is not attempting to form an alliance of Slavic and Christian Orthodox people, as Professor Huntington had predicted. Instead it is developing close ties with other authoritarian regimes and right-wing movements in Europe, as well as with China - policies that reflect Moscow's interests as opposed to its cultural orientation.

    That President Trump has made a trade war with China one of the major undertakings of his administration, in pursuit of a trade deal to rebalance the relationship between the world's two largest economies, makes perhaps geo-economic sense, while serious geo-strategic considerations explain why the United States should respond to the military challenges posed by China in East Asia and elsewhere and form alliances to counter its power.

    But the Trump administration has gone out of its way to brand China as a global threat, sounding the alarm about its influence around the world, including in Europe, Africa and the Arctic.

    And now policymakers like Secretary Pompeo and Ms Skinner seem to be going beyond the trade disputes, the disagreements over Taiwan and other issues, and the traditional American policy of criticising Beijing's human rights conduct, and are depicting China as an existential threat to the West and its values that needs to be contained and perhaps even defeated.

    This "strategy" is intellectually lazy, is based on an inaccurate reading of China's policy, and is part of an attempt to depict that country as being more malign and threatening than it really is. Perhaps we would be better off with President Trump's "hunches and instincts" without Secretary Pompeo and Ms Skinner turning them into silly and dangerous "hypotheses".

  2. #2
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    Default Re: US-China ties: It's not a clash of civilisations

    Do you think this will have an impact in Singapore?

  3. #3
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    Default Re: US-China ties: It's not a clash of civilisations

    When the elephant makes Love, the Ant suffer.

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