SINGAPORE (May 20): Late last month, at a security forum in Washington, DC, Kiron Skinner, director of policy planning for the US Department of State, described today’s US-China conflict as “a fight with a really different civilisation and a different ideology, and the United States hasn’t had that before”. As a trial balloon, this apparent attempt to define US President Donald Trump administration’s confrontation with China did not fly.

By framing the creeping cold war between the US and China as a clash of civilisations, Skinner — whose position was once held by luminaries such as George Kennan, Paul Nitze, Richard N Haass and Anne-Marie Slaughter — was being neither original nor accurate. The political scientist Samuel P Huntington developed the con cept more than a quarter-century ago, and the Communist Party of China itself is an ideologically bankrupt entity.

Worse, Skinner’s full remarks were freighted with racial overtones. Unlike the US’ competition with the Soviet Union, which she described as, “a fight within the Western family”, the rivalry with China supposedly represents “the first time that we will have a great power competitor that is not Caucasian”. Never mind that the US fought Japan in World War II.

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