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Is Trump’s Trade War with China a Civilizational Conflict?

Recent remarks by a senior Trump administration official suggest that the United States' current approach to China is dangerously misconceived. The rise of China under a one-party dictatorship should be met with a united front in defense of the liberal order, not talk of a clash of Caucasian and non-Caucasian civilizations.

WASHINGTON, DC – 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 civilization and a different ideology, and the United States hasn’t had that before.” As a trial balloon, this apparent attempt to define the Trump administration’s confrontation with China did not fly.

By framing the creeping cold war between the US and China as a clash of civilizations, 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 concept 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 America’s 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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