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China: Death of Bin Laden and the Clash of Civilizations

This post is part of our special coverage The Death of Osama Bin Laden.

In the early 1990s, political scientist Samuel Huntington put forward the clash of civilizations theory that the fundamental source of conflict in the post-Cold War world will be cultural. He identified several major cultures – Western, Eastern Orthodox, Latin America, Islamic, Japanese, Chinese, Hindu, and African – as contestants in the struggles across the globe. But he specifically highlighted a Confucian-Islamic connection which challenged Western interests, values and power.

From a strategic point of view, the recent death of Osama Bin Laden has caused anxiety in China. The title of an editorial at the official Global Times best summarizes it: After Bin Laden, will China become US foe? While the article contends that economic integration will steer a stable US-China relations, it nevertheless admits that China as a rising power ‘is certain to cause friction with the US’. The death of Bin Laden offers the US an opportunity to ‘declare an end to the War on Terror’ and a ‘strategic adjustment’.

How to view the demise of Bin Laden in the framework of the clash of civilizations? Is it a watershed moment from which the West will shift its focus from Islamism to Confucianism? Two Chinese authors, writing in the Princeton-based web journal China in Perspective, have offered contrasting viewpoints.

Guo Baosheng, a Chinese democratic activist, wrote that in the strategic triangle characterized by the West vs. Confucian-Islamic conflict, the death of Bin Laden means that the West can shift its focus to China:

了解了新时代的大三角关系,就不难理解2001年911事件对中国的意义,也就不难理解今天本拉登之死对中国的意义。尽管亨廷顿认为911事件是“野蛮对文明的攻击”,根本不是文明间的冲突,但大多数论者还是依据其文明冲突论,判定911事件是伊斯兰文明中的极端势力挑战西方文明的战争,而此战争,使原本想遏制中共专制(及其包装“儒家文明”)的西方文明战略发生了重大转移,使得西方文明不得不与中共寻求联手,对付伊斯兰文明。大三角关系中的西、儒联手,使得中共得以脱身、势力不断坐大。

By understanding the strategic triangle in this new era, you can see what 9/11 and the death of Bin Laden means for China. Although Huntington thought that 9/11 was a conflict between civilization and savage, not one between civilizations, many still based their arguments on the clash of civilizations theory. It was a clash between extremist Islamism and the West. This clash led to a strategic shift of focus of the West from Chinese Communist authoritarianism (wrapped up in Confucianism) to Islamism. The West had to ally with China to deal with Islamism. This gave China an opportunity to develop its power.

而在毛泽东执政后期,苏联、美国、中国,也是大三角关系,中国联美对抗苏联的策略,也使中国的国际地位一下地提升,既免除了来自北方的威胁,又因美国的支持而进入联合国。因此,911事件发生时,美国与中国的联手,使中国受益匪浅。

When Mao Zedong was in power, the Soviet Union, US and China also formed a strategic triangle. The alliance between China and the US increased the international standing of China. China was saved threats from the north and entered the United Nations with the help of the US. By the same token, the alliance between the US and China after 9/11 was beneficial to China.

根据文明冲突论中的大三角关系,当西方文明对伊斯兰文明取得决定性胜利时,就再也没有必要联手儒教文明,而且,西方文明与儒教文明间的冲突就会重新开始。本拉登的死标志着伊斯兰文明中极端势力的标志性崩溃,这一崩溃,使以前需要联手中国反恐、对中国作出不少妥协的美国及西方文明,真正开始对中共强硬起来。

According to the triangular clash of civilizations, when the West won a decisive victory over Islamism, there is no longer a need to ally with Confucianism. It is a new beginning of the West vs. Confucianism conflict. The death of Bin Laden represented the collapse of extremist Islamism. This collapse means that the West no longer needs to compromise with China in exchange for co-operation on anti-terrorism. The West can now be harsh on China.

However, another Chinese writer Liu Zili, responding to the above article, pointed out that it is not a question of clashes between civilizations. Universal values are inherent in each and every civilization. But bad elements are also present in each of them. If we can separate out the bad elements, a grand integration of civilizations is conceivable:

不管是美国人亨氏,还是其他人,他们只看到问题的表层,没有看到问题的深层;问题的关键,不是各种文明冲突,而是不采纳文明导致自由之路的错误归宿使然,从而产生了中国之假儒教,伊朗之伪阿拉,乃至其他伪基督和伪宗教;不但如此,就连西方文明也产生过类似错误:宗教极权主义之中世纪;后世之对内民主,对外殖民;沆瀣中共和苏共等…这些罪恶之重要表现,就是本.拉登不采纳伊斯兰穆罕默德之历史上,麦加占领时期的、黑方石下的宽容所致;就是列宁主义,毛主义、共产主义,消灭东正教,消灭孔子的仁政之“反文明论”;其,又和西方资本主义文明和早期布尔什维克主义,和毛、邓主义之某种媾和与“战略经济”勾结——这就是西方文明,对于西方自由民主本身的对峙和背弃。

No matter it is Huntington or someone else, they only see the surface but not the heart of the problem: it is not the clash between civilizations, but the failure of civilizations to embark on the liberal path, like the pseudo-Confucianism of China, pseudo-Islamism of Iran, as well as pseudo-Christianity and other religions. Not only that, Western civilizations have also made the same mistake: religious totalitarianism in the Middle Ages; internal democracy and external imperialism in the age of colonialism; [realist-based] intimacy with Communist China and Soviet Union… There are many manifestations of these sins: rejection by Bin Laden the tolerance displayed in the history of Islamism and Mohammed; and the destruction of Orthodox Church and benevolent Confucianism under Leninism, Maoism and Communism. And we cannot spare Western capitalism, which made peace with the early Bolshevism, and Maoism-Dengism, in a kind of strategic-economic collusion. This is Western civilization, in opposition and abandonment of its liberalism and democracy.

所以,只有西方文明像消灭拉登一样,消灭这种文明之负面恶果,才能划分西方文明中的良莠之区隔,做到,和一切伊斯兰和东方文明接轨,且,为此催生民主带来的世界各种文明之复兴;绝对不是营造基督教一统天下(或者像后学那样,解构解域之;或者像《时代精神》一片那样,对此施行基督涂炭主义和大讲“阴谋论”,为拉登解脱(请见该影片;他们说,911不是拉登所为)。这是文明融合论的大构想,大设计。所以,在此欢庆拉登死掉的节日气氛里,世界有识之士,该对产生西方和伊斯兰乃至儒家文化中、反民主自由,给恐怖主义造成空隙的那些文明悖论,予以警惕和清除;否则,一个拉登倒下,百十个拉登还会站起来。他们的旗帜和伪装,就是文明冲突论。

Therefore, only when Western civilization destroys its negative connotations, like how it destroys Bin Laden, can it separate its good elements from the bad. Achieving this, it can connect with the Islamic and Oriental civilizations. Further, it will bring about universal democracy and the renaissance of various civilizations of the world (it is by no means universal domination by Christianity, or post-modernist deconstruction, or like the film Zeitgeist, which asserts the Christ myth theory and other conspiracies to relieve Bin Laden of its crime). This is a grand design about the integration of civilizations. Therefore, while we celebrate the death of Bin Laden, we should guard against the fallacy which leads to anti-democratic and illiberal tendencies in Western, Islamic and Confucian civilizations alike, and creates space for terrorism. Otherwise, for one Bin Laden fallen, a hundred will stand up. Their banners and camouflage will bear the name of the ‘clash of civilizations’.

故此,美国方面,并非因为拉登之死,就可以腾出手来对付中国,就可以改观“中美国”的经济和外交关系;关键所在是,美欧要重新考虑西方文明中、资本主义沆瀣中共市场这件事情。只要这个“战略经济‘同盟’”不废弃,不重构(重新设计对民主中国之构想),美国和欧洲走出资本文明至上论的怪圈,就绝无可能。如果这样,在未来的对华政治中,此消彼起的中美关系,仍旧会处在无法定位中国的难题之中,左右彷徨,且为其真正最后“崛起”,制造条件。

Hence, it is not correct to say that the death of Bin Laden will enable the US to deal with China, and to fundamentally change the ‘Chinamerica’ economic and diplomatic relations. America and Europe need to think hard about their capitalist collusion with Communist China. As long as this strategic-economic alliance is not abandoned or restructured (a re-design of the scheme for a democratic China), America and Europe cannot step out of the dilemma rooted in the supremacy of capitalism. If that is the case, the problem of how to define China with still feature as a paradox in future Sino-America relations, and creates the conditions for the ultimate rise of China.

This post is part of our special coverage The Death of Osama Bin Laden.

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