Chinese President Xi Jinping's recent rejection of a clash-of-civilisations thesis was a rejoinder to an American official who said that the United States is, for the first time, facing a competitor that is not Caucasian. The official, in doing so, suggested that the current Sino-US trade dispute is a contest between two countries from different civilisations and with differing ideologies. While the ideological dimension of the Sino-American contest for power and influence is real, civilisation has nothing to do with it. Trade disputes, political differences and strategic dissonance between Beijing and Washington have become serious global issues of late. But they do not detract from the record of Sino-American friendship for more than two decades after the end of the Cold War. Indeed, China and America belong to the same civilisations then as they do now.
It is apposite that President Xi's comments were made at a conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilisations. It served to underline the point that Asia must not be held hostage by presumed differences with the West - differences that are often exacerbated by notions of racial superiority. Granted, Asia is not a homogeneous civilisational space. It is differentiated by its Sinic, Austronesian, Indic, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Hebrew and other strands. Yet these strands overlap and interweave into a coherent Asian whole - which then engages the similarly rich diversity of the West, that has been made up of strands from across Europe and North America.