China's diplomatic activities facilitate cultural exchange and cooperation between civilizations
By Zhang Yage  ·  2024-04-01  ·   Source: NO.14 APRIL 6, 2023
Wang Yiwei, a professor of diplomacy at Renmin University of China, speaks at a seminar themed on China's diplomacy and the launch event for his book China's Approach to People-to-People Connectivity in Beijing on March 19 (COURTESY PHOTO)

In 1993, American political scientist Samuel Huntington proposed a theory that people's cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world.

More than 30 years after Huntington's article expounding the theory, The Clash of Civilizations?, was published in Foreign Affairs journal, Wang Yiwei, a professor of diplomacy at Renmin University of China (RUC), has shared his belief that, through China's consistent efforts, there will be a "clicking" rather than a "clashing" between civilizations.

Wang made the statement in his new book on China's public diplomacy practices, titled China's Approach to People-to-People Connectivity. The book was launched in Beijing on March 19.

"The guiding principle of China's public diplomacy activities is to facilitate understanding and communication between different civilizations, maintain the peaceful coexistence of multiple cultures, and promote dialogue between civilizations," Wang said at a RUC-hosted seminar held at the same time of the book launch.

A great timing

"Nowadays, ethnic conflicts and cultural frictions still haunt us. Security dilemmas have led to a trust crisis that is creating anxiety and skepticism in many countries. The Chinese solution to these problems is to call for all civilizations to seek mutual respect and recognition, and establish a community with a shared future for humanity," Zhang Jianguo, Secretary General of the Charhar Institute, a Beijing-based non-governmental think tank, commented at the seminar.

Zhang said Wang's book is timely, given the current complex international situation, and it contains successful cases and replicable experiences that might light the road ahead.

In defining "complex," he referred to the ever more profound mistrust between countries, the global economic recession, the imbalance in development between developed and developing economies, the increasing gap between ideologies and civilizations, the gradual decrease in cultural exchange, and the side effects of digital technology development.

According to Wang, resolving these problems requires mutual understanding between nations and civilizations. He continued that the best way forward, especially for China and the U.S., is to boost in-person exchange between young people.

"In both China and the U.S., young adults have more favorable opinions regarding one another than older people. However, in the past few years, the number of overseas students visiting and studying in China has decreased rapidly, especially those from the United States," Wang said. "As a result, American young people are relying more on media platforms to form their opinions about China, and these platforms, influenced by Washington's shifting diplomatic tactics, tend to perpetuate stubborn stereotypes about China."

At the end of 2009, China and the U.S. jointly launched a plan to facilitate 100,000 students from the U.S. studying in China between 2010 and July 2014. This was the U.S. Government's first program to encourage students to study in China, and significantly enhanced the understanding and cooperation between the two countries.

"Normally, the average annual number of U.S. students studying in China was 10,000, but in the past few years, the number has dropped to only hundreds," Ren Xiao, Director of the Foreign Policy Institute at Fudan University in Shanghai, said at the seminar.

On March 17, 24 teenagers from Lincoln High School and Steilacoom High School in Washington State embarked on an 11-day journey around China. The tour was part of broader efforts to expand bilateral exchange in education, overseas students, youth, culture and sports and between the business communities, as agreed by Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden during their meeting in San Francisco last November. During that trip to the United States, Xi announced an initiative to invite 50,000 young people to China from the U.S. on exchange and study programs in the next five years.

"China and the U.S. are distinctly different civilizations, requiring more effort to build and expand mutual understanding and shared views," Wang said. "Communication between youth is pivotal for the deepening of the diplomatic relationship. We should encourage cultural exchange and put more effort into removing obstacles for those who have intentions to visit China."

Workers on a production line at the SEMP TCL television factory in Manaus, Brazil, on March 13. SEMP TCL is a joint venture established by Chinese electronics giant TCL Technology and Brazilian home appliance manufacturer SEMP (XINHUA) 

Continuous efforts

Another major priority is fostering greater mutual understanding between China and other emerging economies, such as Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries, Wang wrote in his book.

Cooperation between China and LAC countries under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a China-proposed initiative to boost connectivity along and beyond the ancient Silk Road routes, has achieved remarkable progress over recent years. Wang underscored the importance of consistent efforts and focus on broadening and deepening the collaborative ties in the future.

In his book, Wang highlights the impact of the BRI in the LAC region by looking at changes in favorable opinions of LAC people toward Chinese enterprises, as measured by U.S. think tank the Pew Research Center. The center's Spring 2018 Global Attitudes Survey found 49 percent of those surveyed in Brazil had a positive attitude toward Chinese enterprises, with that number increasing to 81 percent in a survey conducted by the center in 2019.

Wang said this increase is indicative of a change in perception across the entire LAC region, with region-wide positive attitude toward Chinese enterprises reaching 73 percent in 2019, as more nations experienced the benefits of BRI participation.

An earlier survey released by China International Communications Group revealed that more than half of the respondents from LAC countries participating in the BRI consider infrastructure and transportation to be the most urgent priorities for cooperation under the BRI.

"The BRI has contributed greatly to the improvement of infrastructure in the LAC region, and the government and companies should put more effort into emerging industries, including clean energy, consumption and the service sector," Wang said. "This will help LAC countries as well as optimize China's outbound investment structure."

In addition to the LAC region, Wang's book also offers recommendations on how China could deliver targeted efforts in the United States, India, Southeast Asian countries, Australia and African states to enhance people-to-people exchange. He said the ideas are based on his experience studying and working in these countries, and he hopes to add more countries, such as Russia, in his future works.

"I'm also planning on talking about public diplomacy according to other methods of categorization. For example, I might focus on the diplomatic activities in different fields, such as climate change, technological innovation and youth exchange. The research method is not mature yet, but I'm glad to explore," Wang told Beijing Review.

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson

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