How would clashes of civilizations take place from now on?

Written by He Qinglian on September 8, 2011
(translated by krizcpec)

The year 2011 will be an important one in world history. Because in this year, the outbreak of “Jasmine Revolutions” in MENA make it clear that—
One) The main impetus of these revolutions is the awakening rights consciousness of the people. Given that rights consciousness is something unique to Western civilization, thus the so-called “clash of civilizations” has changed from wars between countries as well as the war on terror into confrontations between the people requesting their rights and the leader holding onto their powers inside totalitarian states;
Two) The clash between Western and Muslim civilizations has relegated to secondary status while the clash between the pseudo-Chinese civilization—a combination of Oriental despotism and Communism—and the Western civilization will become increasingly sharpened in the form of internal confrontations. 

Major Change to the form of “Clash of Civilizations”
After 9/11, the world in general thought the prediction in Samuel P. Huntington's Clash of Civilizations would come true—the clash between Western and Muslim civilizations would become the main theme of the 21st century. A worry that has not been lessened by the death of Saddam Hussein. 

But by 2011, the clash of Western and Muslim civilizations—which manifests itself in the forms of wars between countries and the war on terror—has basically ended. As the world sees Tunisia, Egypt and other countries embarking on the road to democratization after the outbreak of "Jasmine Revolutions" in MENA; the strengthening demand for democratization in Iran, as well as the death of Osama Bin Laden, the clash of civilizations has become internal confrontations between the authoritarian ruler(s) of a country and the people who oppose dictatorship.

I made this judgment based on the revolutions that took place in MENA. The people's awareness of rights, and concepts like democracy, freedom and human rights are not from endogenous demands of Muslim or East Asian Confucian Cultures; rather, these are a result of the peoples coming up with their proposition of rights after they are influenced by the universal civilization of the West.

In saying this, I do not mean to negate the contributions and influences of the book The Clash of Civilizations by the political science master Samuel P. Huntington. His observations had fairly accurately predicted the clashes between major civilizations of the world, yet he was not able to foresee how big the impact the Internet would have on the way people obtain information and the way they think.

The youth in MENA these days are different from the youth before the mid-90s. The youth back then lived in a time when, comparatively, not much information was being circulated and they became easy targets of officials propaganda. Many of them joint the army to make a living and became the source of troops for fundamentalists, terrorists or insurgents. Today, the young population of these countries are in general better educated and yet the majority of them is out of work. Their lives are meaningless and they cannot see a future.

With the help of the Internet, however, they come to realize that apart from authoritarian regimes, there exists in the world a democratic system that respects individual's rights, a system that allows people to choose their rulers and lead lives with dignity. Naturally, this generation of young people see as their spiritual pursuit the realization of universal values in their countries.

The Rainbow of “the Community of Asian Values” Has Gone
As universal values of the West are making an impact on the Islamic world in general, they are also influencing the young generations in Asian countries, including those of China. Then how would China, the last stronghold of East Asian Culture and Communism, set its footing?

In his book the Clash of Civilizations, Samuel P. Huntington discussed briefly the four factors that brought forth the “Asian Affirmation” in East Asian countries:
  1. the Asian believe that East Asian countries can maintain rapid growth and surpass the West in economic output;
  2. the Asian believe that the superiority Asian cultures have over that of the West is by and large the reason of their economic success, Western cultures and societies are declining.
  3. Even though different societies and cultures of Asia may be disparate in some ways, the commonality among them is more important;
  4. Asian countries believe that Asia development and Asian values would be a model for other non-Western societies to learn from. Based on this belief, the Asian community and China would become increasingly daring in resisting pressure from the United States and other Western societies.
After 9/11, the United States has had to form a “strategic partnership” with China because of its needs on the war on terror. This not only gave China a great opportunity to expand its international space, but also lessened significantly the external pressure on China's authoritarian politics and the human rights issues.

In the early noughties of the 21st century, Beijing did indeed immerse itself in the fantasy of “peaceful rise”, it even succeeded in forcing the U.S. fleet to withdraw to the east of the second chain of Pacific islands.

But since the Beijing Olympics in 2008, China, the “second largest country” on which the world was once full of expectations, has showed all the ugliness inside and which behaviors made the international community see the increase in wealth did not raise the country's sense of responsibility as a major power.

As disputes in the South China Sea intensify, the neighboring South East Asian countries are deeply disturbed by the rise of China and invited the United States to return to Pacific waters. Under the pressure of deepening internal conflicts, the authorities in Beijing have have to return to its former policy of keeping a low profile, so that the United States and neighboring countries would be pacified. And a series of friction between China and its neighboring countries has indicated that inside the so-called “community of Asian Values” there are conflicts greater than that between them and the West.

The Basis for Beijing's Self-Validation is Collapsing
It should be said that the economic growth has inflated Beijing's desire for domination in power/ power control so greatly that China once eagerly promoted the huge challenge the "China model" has on the "Washington consensus". This self-confidence also manifested itself in Beijing's belief that it has sufficient capacity to meet with its people's "bread contract."

But now Beijing has acutely felt pressures on two fronts. On the one hand, the “bread contract” is a double-edged sword. Let the people have enough to eat would of course enhance their support for the regime during a certain period. But human needs are multilevel, once the first level need of survival is met, human dignity and human rights will inevitably become a central concern of the people.

On the other, Beijing's approach to development that ignores social justice and the bureaucracy's wanton corruption and plunder have intensified all social conflicts in China; the avaricious way the government and businesses exploit environment resources to their depletion has made economic development unsustainable, raw materials for “bread” making have become increasingly scarce.

The evolution of the Internet has weakened the government's ability to control information considerably. With the help of the Internet, the public now can not only breakthrough the information blockade by the government, but also make their own voice heard.

I once said that today's China is at the crossroad of history: [people's demand for] rights is challenging the powers [of the authorities]; [the call for] rights protection is going against [the government policy of] maintaining [superficial] social stability; airing grievance on the Internet is gradually replacing petitioning at State and local bureaus for Letters and Calls, the confrontation between the people and the government is manifesting itself in forms that are increasingly acute.

These three major trends make clear but one thing: the Chinese people's consciousness of their rights is awakening. After the outbreak of MENA revolutions, the Chinese people would time and again ask on Weibo, “When would it be China's turn?” The “China model” that the New Leftists and others are forging and the nationalism that the CCP is advocating are being brushed aside by an increasing number of people.

If you ask me what was the last thing that China should miss in the relaxed international environment created by 9/11, I would say that would be the opportunity to reform its internal system and structure.

It is foreseeable that the next round of clash of civilizations—that is, the clash between the Western civilization that advocates people-centered values and the Asian civilization that is characterized by the disregard of human rights—would take center stage in China. Unfortunately, the best time of economic development has gone, the room for the authorities in Beijing to maneuver is getting smaller and smaller, and not many resources are left for the Chinese people to rebuild their country.