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Catalyst for Renewal
Dialogue between Asian civilizations pools wisdom for a better shared future
By Ji Jing  ·  2019-05-16  ·   Source: Web Exclusive

Chinese and foreign leaders pose for a group photo with some participants ahead of the opening of the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations on May 15 (XINHUA)

The exhibition at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing had an interesting medley. There were paintings by Chinese artists depicting other countries in Asia as well as Chinese landscapes and people drawn by artists from other Asian countries.

"As different countries have different historical, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, they have given birth to different and diverse works of art," Wu Weishan, Curator of the museum, said at the opening of the exhibition on May 10. "However, these artworks have one thing in common: They all reflect the artists' earnest pursuit of beauty and aspirations for peace, prosperity and friendship."

"It's important to organize such exhibitions to give an opportunity to different Asian nations to understand that they have many things in common in art and culture," Ahmad Berwari, Iraqi Ambassador to China, told Beijing Review.

Hamzeh Al-Omari, Chargé d'Affaires ad interim at the Jordanian Embassy in China, shared similar views, saying that he felt the exhibition beautifully reflected entire Asia. "I'm amazed to see how beautiful Asia is through the eyes of artists from Asian countries," he said.

The exhibition, showcasing the work of 120 artists from 41 countries, is a vivid example of exchanges between Asian civilizations, echoing the theme of the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations (CDAC), which opened in Beijing on May 15: Exchanges and Mutual Learning Among Asian Civilizations and a Community With a Shared Future.

 

The first China-Kazakhstan co-produced film, The Composer, premieres in Beijing on May 13 (XINHUA)

Equal dialogue 

At the CDAC opening, Chinese President Xi Jinping rejected the theory that different civilizations are bound to clash. "Various civilizations are not destined to clash," he said. "It is foolish to believe that one's race and civilization are superior to others' and it is disastrous to willfully reshape or even replace other civilizations."

Xi made a four-point proposal to consolidate the cultural foundation of jointly building a community with a shared future for Asia and humanity: treating each other with respect and as equals; appreciating the beauty of all civilizations; adhering to openness, inclusiveness and mutual learning; and keeping pace with the times.

Asia is the birthplace of many important civilizations in the world, such as the Indian, Mesopotamian and Chinese civilizations. There have been frequent exchanges and mutual learning among Asian civilizations throughout history. For instance, Buddhism spread to China and other parts of Asia from India. Ancient Chinese thinkers Confucius and Mencius' philosophy spread to Asia and beyond to provide guidance for human conduct and governance. Astrology and the medical science of Arab countries came to China through the ancient Silk Road. Asian countries have always had a solid foundation in history for dialogue and communication.

Today, cultural exchanges have continued across a variety of fields such as films, literature, and cultural heritage protection. The first China-Kazakhstan co-produced film The Composer hit the screens on May 17, during the CDAC. The musical chronicles the last years (1940-45) of Chinese composer Xian Xinghai, best known for his Yellow River Cantata, in Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city, and Moscow.

Xi has highlighted the importance of exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations on multiple occasions. In a keynote speech at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris in 2014, he said, "Civilizations have become richer and more colorful with exchanges and mutual learning. Such exchanges and mutual learning form an important drive for human progress and global peace and development."

He proposed the CDAC at the Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia in Shanghai in 2014 and again at the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference in Hainan Province in south China in 2015.

The CDAC is another major international event hosted by China this year, following the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in April and the International Horticultural Exhibition, which lasts from April to October.

The event consisted of an opening ceremony, thematic forums, an Asian Culture Carnival and an Asian Civilization Week, involving more than 110 activities that showcased the diversity and charm of Asian civilizations.

More than 2,000 people from 47 Asian countries, as well as from other parts of the world, attended the opening ceremony and forums. The forums explored themes such as sharing governance experience, safeguarding the diversity of Asian civilizations and building a community with a shared future for humanity.

The Asian Civilization Week featured performances, exhibitions and film screenings. In addition, a food festival was held in Beijing, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Chengdu.

 

A panoramic view of the Asian Culture Carnival in Beijing on May 15 (WEI YAO)

New vision 

"He made a very warm opening speech, expressing his willingness to open arms to all civilizations in Asia and beyond. He emphasized the need to deal with different civilizations on an equal footing. No civilization has the right to be superior. All civilizations have their uniqueness and their share in the human heritage," Oraib Al Rantawi, Director General of the Middle East-based Al-Quds Center for Political Studies, told Beijing Review, commenting on Xi's speech at the opening ceremony of the CDAC.

"Instead of the clash of civilizations, [Xi] emphasized the need for cooperation between civilizations and to build a community of civilizations with a shared future. These are good ideas. They reverse the direction of many developments in the world which are leading to a more confrontational relationship between countries and civilizations," Rantawi added.

Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Pakistani Senator and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, said the biggest takeaway from Xi's speech was that he rejected the Western notion of the clash of civilizations. "He also made it very clear that there is no civilization which is superior to any others [and] rejected any prejudice," Sayed, who also chairs the Pakistan-China Institute, a nongovernmental organization in Pakistan, said.

"This is setting the vision forward, a vision which is different from the vision in the West, where there's talk of confrontation, conflict, cleavages. But President Xi is talking of cooperation, connectivity or a win-win situation. So we are seeing two different visions," he added.

Yury V. Tavrovsky, a professor of international relations at the Russian Peoples' Friendship University, agreed with Sayed.

"Right now we see two tendencies in the world--one is globalization and the other is de-globalization. The U.S. is trying to destroy the present world order. It has canceled its participation in various global agreements like the Paris climate accord. But China leads globalization. It offers to the world great ideas like the Belt and Road Initiative and a shared future for Asia and entire humanity. This is very important," Tavrovsky said. "China now offers a new beacon of hope."

Dialogue is the common aspiration of people in Asia. A report on the level of mutual recognition released by the Academy of Contemporary China and World Studies, a think tank specializing in international communication research, interviewed 4,800 people aged above 18 and with an education above high school from 12 Asian countries.

The respondents said the pursuit of peace was their common value and an Asian community with a shared future their common direction of development.

Over 60 percent of them said all civilizations are equal and the diversity of civilizations should be protected. Over 90 percent said Asian countries need to strengthen dialogue and communication.

"The conference can increase the awareness of Asian civilization. Asia has ancient, diverse and rich civilizations. However, for a long time in history Western civilization has dominated in the world and Asian civilization has been suppressed to a certain extent," Chen Xulong, Director of the Department for International and Strategic Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told Beijing Review.

"The conference has highlighted the role of culture and civilization in building a community with a shared future for Asia and humanity. It is a powerful rebuke to those who advocate the theory of the clash of civilizations," Chen said.

"Today's Asia, which boasts over 60 percent of the world's population and one third of the world's GDP, has become an important engine for global economic growth," Xu Liping, a researcher with the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said. "Asian civilization will embrace a renewal and the CDAC will be a catalyst for such a renewal."

Tackling challenges  

However, in spite of the pressing need for dialogue and exchanges, there are still challenges.

Rantawi said unbalanced development on the continent is one of the big challenges. "We have rich countries and poor countries. We have millions of people still living in poverty and miserable situations, especially women and children," he said, adding that extremism threatens the cohesion of societies and creates serious security and stability challenges.

Sayed said the biggest challenge is that some powers from outside Asia want to re-ignite a Cold War. "They are talking of a China threat and containment of China, which is not acceptable," he remarked.

Chen said those who try to create barriers and even conflicts between civilizations and regard their own culture as superior are detrimental to cultural exchanges and cooperation. All kinds of extremism, narrow-minded nationalism and extreme populism are harmful for exchanges and integration between civilizations.

However, cultural exchanges among Asian countries have increased as interconnectivity improves under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, he pointed out. In the future Asian countries should work together to increase the frequency and improve the quality of cultural exchanges by building more regional cooperation platforms like the CDAC, he said.

Berwari also spoke about his expectations about the CDAC: "We hope that this will not be the [only] conference but the beginning of a series of activities for Asian countries to, first of all, understand the connectivity between them and second, to have a dialogue on how to take advantage of the common bridges between them."

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

Comments to jijing@bjreview.com

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