China Daily | Updated: 2019-05-16 07:48
Editor’s Note: Representatives from many countries and organizations are taking part in the weeklong Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations that began in Beijing on Wednesday. Following are excerpts from the speeches delivered by nine of the participants:
Use Belt and Road Initiative to revive historical relations
Around 1,000 BC, Central Asia was predominantly an Aryan region that included the Eastern Iranian-speaking (or Persianspeaking) people, Bactrians, Sogdians and Khwarazmians and the semi-nomadic Sakas and Alans, who had a great influence on the history of the region. Since the ancient Silk Road passed through Central Asia and Iran, the two places played a key role in the historical and cultural activities of the times.
During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), a Zoroastrian community moved from Persia to Central Asia, especially to Sogdiana (now in Tajikistan), and then through the Silk Road to China. Studies show the Iranian poets and writers who moved to China merged into the Chinese civilization. As a result, some of their works in the Chinese language show Daoist and Buddhist influence.
Manichaeism, founded by Iranian prophet Mani (c. 216-276), was influential in Iran, Central Asia, India and China, as well as in Mesopotamia, Turkey, Byzantium and the Roman Empire. Manichaean intellectuals were good not only at establishing trade and cultural relations with other communities but also at facilitating dialogue among civilizations.
The discovery of thousands pieces of manuscripts in Turpan in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region show that some Iranian merchants and intellectuals along with their families migrated to China in the 9th century. Later, they moved to Quanzhou in East China’s Fujian province and established a peaceful community, as well as trade and cultural ties with many other communities in the city, which was also called Zaytun or (City of) Olives.
So there is a need to revive the historical peaceful ties and renew our cultural and commercial cooperation, for instance, through the Belt and Road Initiative.
Abolghasem Esmailpour, an expert in mythology and a professor at Shahid Beheshti University, Teheran
Dialogue can help develop openness and tolerance
The UNESCO constitution is a fantastic document which arms the international cultural institutions to hold dialogue among civilizations, especially a dialogue on how to look at others with tolerance and openness.
People in Asia respect cultural diversity, which is necessary to lay the foundation for dialogue among different Asian civilizations and cultures. They also believe that cultural diversity leads to mutual enrichment and creates a better atmosphere for dialogue in the future.
Thanks to decades of economic exchange, the Arab states and China have built a strong relationship. To expand this relationship to that between the Arab states and other Asian countries, we need not only political and economic arrangements led by governments but also more cultural and people-to-people exchanges.
And the Belt and Road Initiative can provide a solid platform for such exchanges and thus create a more conducive environment for a dialogue of Asian civilizations, which in turn can help develop mutual openness and tolerance.
Massoud Daher, a professor at Lebanese University
Time to look at our daily life as part of ‘all under heaven’
We live in an age of empires, which has obvious political implications; much less apparently, it also affects our ways of being in the world.
To share a world in which we can again think in terms of “all under heaven” indeed requires some adaptation. Diversity is a key word here. In the large, plural world we live in, no professional, scholarly, or intellectual commitment can any longer be confined to any one particular conceptual horizon. Personal and professional success will increasingly depend on our capacity of being familiar with a plurality of cultures.
This is particularly true of the plurality of heritages, cultures and histories that shaped the civilizations of Asia. As far as philosophy is concerned, for instance, scholars around the world are becoming increasingly aware of the distinctive contribution of Chinese and Asian philosophies to the conceptual, spiritual and scientific heritage of humankind.
Philosophy as well as the humanities can and do help us, regardless of our physical locations, cultivate the ability to merge our cultural roots into a larger citizenship in a way that would expand the boundaries of ourselves and make us better citizens of this world. This is indeed a time to look at our daily life as part of a larger “all under heaven”, and to conceive it in all of its diversity of cultures, heritages and civilizations.
Luca M. Scarantino, president of International Federation of Philosophical Societies
Asian community marked by common interests and culture
Asian countries began the community building process with the Bandung Conference in 1955, two years after the Korean War (1950-53), and accelerated it after the formation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 1976, one year after the end of the Vietnam War. And they strengthened that process through the Belt and Road Initiative, which was proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013.
As with regional projects in other parts of the globe, the Asian community building process, too, has two components－common interests (gesellschaft) and common culture (gemeinschaft).
The European integration project was necessitated by the common need of Western European countries to recover from the destruction of World War II and guard against Soviet “expansionism”. Hence, the United States supported European integration project through the Marshal Plan, an alliance system to check the political influence of the Soviet Union. These common interests have been firmly associated with the countries’ cultures which have common roots in Christianity and Pan-Europeanism which emerged after the end of World War I.
Eiichi Shindo, Professor Emeritus at University of Tsukuba, Japan
Dialogue can lead to better East-West communication
I have worked and travelled in India, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and 28 of the provinces and regions of China. I have seen first-hand the richness and diversity of Chinese and Asian cultures.
Through my many journeys, I have also seen how Asia, led by China, has “reformed and opened up”. The outcome of these advances has been profound. For example, China has already lifted more than 700 million people out of poverty and is committed to eliminating absolute poverty by 2020.
One would expect the US and Europe to welcome these positive changes in China and Asia. Yet the fact is otherwise, probably because of a lack of proper communication. Media outlets outside of China do not reflect what I see around me in China, where I spend six months in a year. As a European and a British citizen, I can say Europe is still ignorant about Asia and China.
That’s why I welcome the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations. It provides a great opportunity for discussions on how to improve communication between Asia, China, the US and Europe,
The digital revolution could be a core driver of innovative communication from China. In other words, the same message can be conveyed in a different, friendly style and format. For example, Chinese websites, which are typically text dense, can lean from European and US websites and create more images to make their message more presentable and readable. And the conference could be a “game-changer” in this regard.
Alistair Michie, secretary general of British East Asia Council
All nations must join hands to solve major global problems
A clash of civilizations, in my opinion, takes place only when civilizations have little knowledge of each other and share few common interests. In this age of information, almost any information is a click away. But barriers such as language, fake news, lack of direct media channels, political manipulations and other factors still prevent civilizations from truly understanding each other.
A country will defend its interests against threats while welcoming any support from friendly countries. “Identifying friend or foe” is thus critically important for a country to correctly assess the situation, which can be done only by gathering information from authentic sources.
Without comprehensive connectivity, countries cannot fully understand each other. Comprehensive connectivity includes physical connectivity such as roads, electricity grids and other infrastructure facilities; political connectivity such as bilateral, regional and international relations; economic connectivity such as transportation, logistics, trade and investments; social connectivity such as cultural and religious exchanges, people-to-people relations and public diplomacy; and media and information connectivity.
The world is grappling with a host of problems such as the socio-economic gap, environmental degradation, armed conflicts, terrorism, transnational crimes and illegal migration. These problems can be solved only through cooperation and synergy among all countries, not by any one country alone.
So all countries should work together to address these problems. And since the dialogue of Asian civilizations is aimed at developing better connectivity and communication between the participating countries, it can help them to join hands to address the common problems.
Ko Ko Hlaing, head of Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies and former chief political adviser to Myanmar’s president
The real art of living signifies all people living peacefully
We hope the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations will help the world understand once and for all that Asian and Chinese civilizations are an integral part of world civilization, and that they have greatly influenced human progress.
Since it is not humanly possible to cover all aspects of civilizations in a weeklong dialogue, we should try to achieve the following:
Most relevant information should be selected from the more than 1,500 entries tracing the history of major world civilizations. While selecting the relevant facts, objectivity should be uppermost in the minds of the experts. And despite the limited period of the dialogue, we should try to present the background, progress and results of historical events, and the contributions and influences of the outstanding figures and their times.
A peaceful world can be built only through “competition for wisdom” based on ethics, not through competition for power.
The Confucian concept of “harmony without uniformity” highlights the “beauty of diversity”, which is the reality of nature and thus humankind. And the real art of living is in people of all creeds, colors and cultures living peacefully together.
Surasit Thanadtang, director of Thai-Chinese Strategic Research Centre
Asian values based on concept of mutual benefit
Some people tend to believe universal values are a gift of the West. Indeed, some countries, despite their relatively short history, are in a privileged position to determine universal values. Which prompts us to ask: What actually are universal values? And why should any country have the right to determine the values applicable to the countries and peoples across the world?
Western values are based on a core concept of duality. If one side is white, the other must be black; if one side is right, the other must be wrong; if one is good, the other has to be bad; if one side wins, then the other must lose. This zero-sum mentality is evident in politics, economics, workplaces, virtually all aspects of life in Western society.
Asian values, on the other hand, are based on non-duality. Yin and yang in Chinese, and atman (self) and brahman (highest reality) in Sanskrit are the same concepts. There is no duality, but a prior unity that evolves into derivatives of multiplicity that are interconnected, multi-dimensional and always interactive and synergistic.
This comes down to a core difference in values. In Western thinking man can overtake nature. In Asian thinking man is only a small part of nature, a conduit between heaven and earth, not a force to try and alter the environment.
The success of the Asian economic models from China to Vietnam to Malaysia can be attributed to the fact that no ideology is applied to economics. It is about using the tools of market and planning in a practical way to get the job done. Likewise, Asian values have created a politics of consensus rather than a zero-sum game. Asian politics is all about consensus. No side wins or loses; all sides move forward together.
Laurence J. Brahm, founding director of Himalayan Consensus