Yu strongly affirmed that the U.S.-China competition is not a “Clash of Civilizations” but a contest between liberal values and Marxist-Leninist ideology; he also suggested that Pompeo was on the same page. Americans fear Chinese influence, he says, because of the Chinese Communist Party’s odious surveillance state and bullying behavior abroad. To find the sources of Chinese conduct, Yu believes that one need look no further than the Leninist ideology taught in Party schools. In contrast, he thinks that talk of civilizations is nebulous and has little operational value.
Skinner disagreed but seemed to corroborate that her ideas had little influence. During her panel, she mentioned that she had tried to implement a strategy that recognized civilizational differences. But she did not clarify what such a strategy entailed in terms of actual policies. She just said that her ideas failed to advance very far because the regional bureaus had too much power to resist the Policy Planning Staff (though Yu said that he and Pompeo had no problem bringing the regional bureaus in line with theirs). One wonders what those battles looked like in the State Department.
The conference did not reach a satisfying resolution on this point or any other, nor were any definitive answers accepted. But one thing is certain—the civilizational state is no longer just an academic concept.
At best, these ideas are a passing fad. At worst, they are already driving strategic decisions. Telos also extended invitations to Alexander Lukin and Zhang Weiwei—real proponents of civilizational state-building living in Russia and China. But neither accepted. Lukin, in any case, would not have been able to get a flight out of Russia. The “liberal empire” is already striking back.
Alex Hu is a student at Yale University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.