As the world is grappling with thorny issues ranging from climate change to terrorism, the upcoming Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations serves as a reminder that exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations is the most effective way to promote the best in humanity.
While the rapid pace of globalization brings about interaction and integration among peoples, countries and regions, the multifaceted process is also fraught with challenges and divisions.
Geopolitical tensions could lead to violent conflicts or even wars; terrorism continues to cast a shadow over many parts of the world; craving for short-term interests tends to hinder cooperation; and new inequalities are emerging while the old ones remain. As noted by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the closing ceremony of a global governance forum co-hosted by China and France in Paris in March, we are facing “four deficits” in global affairs, namely the governance deficit, trust deficit, peace deficit and development deficit.
Some people turn to the ill-defined “clash of civilizations” worldview for an explanation of the current situation. However, that viewpoint is fundamentally flawed for its assumption that differences among civilizations are absolute and confrontations are inevitable.
As former Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova once said, conflict begins where dialogue ceases. Rather than viewing interactions among civilizations through a fatalistic lens, we should embrace dialogues.
Five years ago, in his keynote speech at the headquarters of UNESCO in Paris, Xi laid out his vision of civilization that features diversity, equality and inclusiveness.
“We need to encourage different civilizations to respect each other and live together in harmony while promoting their exchanges and mutual learning as a bridge of friendship among peoples, a driving force behind human society, and a strong bond for world peace,” Xi said.
That vision is even more valuable and relevant today when the world is searching not only for solutions to crises but for new opportunities for further development. History has proven time and again that civilizations maintain their vitality through exchanges and mutual learning.
“In isolation, our ideas stay at one level ... The opportunity to share ideas is always one in which you learn, and you’ll say your ideas get better,” said Mathew Trinca, director of the National Museum of Australia. In 1271, Venetian merchant and explorer Marco Polo embarked on his adventurous journey to the East. Less than two centuries later, Chinese navigator Zheng He set out for the expeditions to Western Seas.
In Asia, Chinese monk Xuanzang’s pilgrimage to the west for Buddhist scriptures over 1,300 years ago left behind a profound legacy of exchanges between two ancient civilizations in China and India. During that same era, the Japanese Kentoshi missions to China’s Tang Dynasty (618-907) had energized Japan’s encounter with continental culture.
Throughout history, such engagements, whether by taking perilous journeys across continents and oceans, or by a simple click on social media pages today, have greatly driven human progress.
People of different backgrounds should also rise to the current global challenges by reaching out to and joining efforts with each other. And that is why the gathering in Beijing today is timely and significant.
Today’s Asia is not only home to some of the world’s oldest civilizations, but also countries with some of the richest cultural diversities.
By renewing the commitment to exchanges and mutual learning, Asian civilizations are ready to make their contribution to the pursuit for a better future for mankind.
The author is a Xinhua writer.