Editorial : Civilisations should treat each other with respect and as equals

【明報專訊】CHINA and the US are in the thick of a trade war, but there has long been more to it than trade disputes. It is also a part of the rise and fall of the two countries and the rivalry between them. While many academics are worried that China and the US will fall into the Thucydides's Trap, some White House officials have added fuel to the fire by framing the China‑US rivalry as the clash between Eastern and Western civilisations and even racial struggles. It is a global trend to emphasise mutual benefits and win‑win cooperation. Once any narrow‑minded racial bias is brought into play, it will become a zero‑sum game. In the first Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilisations that is ongoing in Beijing, the Chinese government has called for equality and respect for all civilisations. The appeal has a special meaning as a note of caution to the world.

In a speech delivered at the conference, President Xi Jinping urged all countries and peoples to exchange ideas and learn from each other. Emphasising that each civilisation has its own value and that civilisations should not be classified as high, low, good or bad, Xi said that "to believe that one's race and civilisation is superior to others" and to insist on reshaping or even replacing other civilisations will only bring about disasters.

The modern international order is based on the concept of "nation‑states". At the centre of this international order are Europe and the US while non‑Western civilisations and developing countries remain on the margins. Apart from enjoying political and economic hegemony, the West has also managed to elevate their own historical experience and liberal values into universal human values.

However, since the 21st century, Western values such as liberalism have no longer been considered the only standard. They are instead confronted with a lot of challenges. Now the West is most concerned about the rise of China. Late American sinologist Lucian Pye once said that "China is a civilisation pretending to be a state". In recent years, some scholars in the West and on the mainland have begun to apply the new concept of "civilisation‑state" to China. China is not a typical nation‑state that is made up of only one people. Instead it is a large civilisation and its rise has inevitably shaken the whole world order.

Eastern and Western civilisations do not have to be on a collision course. However, it is obvious that for some people in the White House, not only must the US maintain its position as the global leader, it must also defend the hegemony of Western civilisation. Director of Policy Planning at the US Department of State Kiron Kanina Skinner described the US‑Russia rivalry as a fight within the Western world and asserted that for the US, the struggle with China was "a fight with a really different civilisation".

Every international order is supported by a thesis. In the 19th century, what supported the colonial invasion and expansion of the West was the so‑called "white man's burden". When the hegemony of the US was established in the 20th century, it was supported by the "universal values" of freedom and democracy. With the rise of China in the 21st century, a thesis put forth by Beijing is "civilisations should treat each other with respect and as equals". China's thesis has struck at the Achilles heels of the US. However, Beijing also has to confront its own sore spot of "freedom and democracy". The international order is undergoing dramatic changes. Through dialogues, China and the US (the West) can build an international order with "two core civilisations" accommodating both theses. If any country insists on holding down its rivals, it will only lead to the dead alley of never‑ending rivalry.

明報社評2019.05.16:平等尊重不同文明 排擠非我族類招災禍




然而踏入21世紀,自由主義等西方價值並未定於一尊,反而面臨不少挑戰,當前西方最關心的就是中國崛起。美國已故漢學家白魯恂(Lucian Pye)曾說,「中國是一個假扮成民族國家的文明」,近年西方和內地一些學者,都開始用「文明型國家」(civilization-state)的新概念看待中國。中國並非典型民族國家,盛載的不是簡單一個民族,而是一個大型文明,其崛起必然動搖整個系統。

東西方文明不一定要走上衝突之路,可是華府有些人顯然認為,美國不僅要維持世界一哥地位,更有責任維護西方文明霸權。美國國務院政策規劃事務主任斯金納(Kiron Skinner)形容,美蘇對抗只是西方文明同室操戈,美中之爭才是「真正不同文明的對抗」。

每個國際秩序都靠一套論述支撐。19世紀支持西方殖民侵略擴張的論述,是所謂「白人責任論」(White man's burden);20世紀美國霸權確立,自由主義民主「普世價值」發揮支撐作用;21世紀中國崛起,北京拋出的論述是「不同文明平等尊重」。中方的論述戳中美國死穴,惟北京亦要面對「自由民主」這個痛點。國際秩序面臨巨變,中國與美國(西方)其實可以透過溝通對話,建立一個兼容兩套論述的「文明雙核心」國際秩序,任何一方執意要壓住對手,最終只會走上死鬥窮途。


in the thick of sth : involved in the busiest or most active part of sth

frame sth : to express sth in a particular way

sore spot : a point or matter in respect of which one is easily irritated

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