SINGAPORE (Apr 23): The current United States and China trade tensions, businessman Ho Kwon Ping thinks, is not about a trade war but about a paradigm shift towards China becoming a major global player who does not want to play by Western rules.

Ho says: “The current US-China tensions are not only not about the trade war, it is not even about geopolitical or geo-economic rivalry. It is about an entire paradigm shift in civilisational relationships which has not happened for the last 200 to 300 years ever since the ascendancy of Western civilisation to become the dominant civilisation in the whole world.”

The outspoken founder and executive chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings and Laguna Resorts and Hotels was speaking at the Credit Suisse Global Supertrends Conference 2019 on Tuesday on new world orders.

In a 15-minute speech, he said the rise of China is a “fundamental civilisational reset” of the Western dominated world order in which less developed countries tried to emulate the West and copied its institutions.

“A 5,000 year old civilisation is saying, ‘The world order that was created after World War II did not benefit us in China, we were pariahs we were considered a Communist country. Now we are here to be a player in the game and we do not accept the rules of the game as set by the Western world. We need to be a player to reset the rules.’”

“China is the first civilisational state since the US in the 20th century to actually do this,” says Ho.

“(China) believes, rightly or wrongly, that their time has come. If perceived by the rest of the world as an existential threat, I think we could have a very sad outcome.”

Ho said the world needed to recognise that and make space for China without demonising her, and without becoming her vassal state like Cambodia has turned out to be.

“We’ve to choose an independent role, to speak truth to power, to be humble but to maintain our own independent cause.”

Ho also took part in a panel discussion on the same topic with former US ambassador to the European Union Anthony Gardner, who said one of the few things Republicans and Democrats agree on is that China is an imminent threat.

Ho said that was a frightening point and he worries that there will be a civilisation war. “The whole notion that a rising power and a declining power must come to conflict is a self fulfilling prophecy.”

During the discussion, the pair also talked about each country’s drive and ambition, with Gardner declaring that the US has an edge over China when it comes one asset: The ability to inspire dreams.

“China will never be able to make people dream,” he says, adding that Europe, Latin America and Africa will not dream the Chinese dream.

“The Chinese are entitled absolutely to dream their dreams my point is it will not be a world  dream, partly because the Chinese don’t really have a Hollywood, but they cannot inspire through a narrative of individual liberties and individual fulfilment,” says Gardner.

Ho rebutted that it was not only Hollywood that can make people dream, and that what the Chinese government wants is not necessarily the average Chinese person’s dream.

“The Chinese dream of 1.6 billion people being able to achieve, within a lifetime, aspirations they never had before, the individual Chinese person’s dream — I think that’s as real as anyone else’s. I think that’s true in all of Asia.

“Dreaming a better life for yourself is not only a monopoly of the rich West. It is in Asia where everything has happened for the last 40 years,” says Ho to applause from the 2,500-strong audience.