Int’l forum calls for deeper civilizational exchanges

By ZHANG YIXIN, SUN MEIJUAN, and RUAN YILEI / 09-08-2022 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

Chinese and foreign scholars attend the Opening Ceremony of the forum online. Photo: CSST

At The International Academic Forum in China 2022, which was held on Aug. 26–27 in Beijing under the theme of “Civilizations Amid Profound Changes: China and the World,” foreign scholars from 15 countries urged efforts to deepen exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations as multiple global challenges loom large. 
Advocating diversity of civilizations
It is said that the Silk Road stemmed from mutual attraction between various human civilizations. Along the routes, Chinese and foreign envoys and merchants came and went, from the east to the west and vice versa, as Eastern and Western cultures converged and collided, generating benefits of civilizational exchanges over thousands of years.
In his video speech to the forum, Bodo Hombach, president of the Bonn Academy for Research and Teaching of Practical Politics in Germany, and former minister of the German Federal Ministry for Special Affairs, said that the exchange of technology and trade brings us wealth, and the exchange of culture and science enables society to prosper. 
Hailing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a sunlit path for those willing to coexist peacefully, Hombach said: “we are willing to walk on this path.” Moreover, he emphasized that human interaction is more precious than ever, highlighting the need to exchange experiences and learn new ideas.
“I learned from Confucius that if this world were dyed blue, we would have no idea of the color blue and we would not experience the colorful world. It is precisely because of the diversity and differences that such a colorful world is created,” he said. 
When addressing the Opening Ceremony of the forum via a video speech, Former Prime Minister of Japan and Honorary Professor of Wuhan University Yukio Hatoyama cited Chinese President Xi Jinping’s concept of “a community with a shared future for mankind,” saying it advocates respecting the diversity of civilizations, and has made important contributions to promoting exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations. 
“At such a historic moment, it is particularly meaningful for scholars from around the world to focus on the diversity of human civilizations and discuss the importance of exchanges and mutual learning,” Hatoyama said. 
Global challenges and solutions 
Hombach also noted that the world has been changing at an alarming rate, and it’s difficult for people to meet face-to-face now. Pressure, aggression, and violence break the balance of interests and undermine trust and cooperation. In the increasingly tense international situation, better communication is needed, Hombach said. 
We currently stand at a passage point between two different historical eras. Jacques Commaille, a senior research fellow at the National Center for Scientific Research in France, said the historical period of uncertainty is more challenging for the future of Western societies than the historical period of certainty. Social development never follows a one-way principle but is the result of conflicts. The system effect between knowledge systems and political regulation systems in Western societies, especially after entering the historical period of uncertainty, will face many threats.
“These threats may make it possible to regress to some certainty... i.e., the production of knowledge could be related to the ‘judicial-political matrix’ and to possibly follow the path of a new authoritarian political order turning science into an instrument of this new political order, a tool to serve politics, or an activity in name only because it is subject to an illusory political order,” Commaille said. 
The world now is a compound of interacting flows and networks with moving centers, said Svend Erik Larsen, former vice president of the Academia Europaea and Professor Emeritus at Aarhus University in Denmark. In this historical juncture, Larsen suggested less importance be attributed to territory for a country, big or small, to actively enter and direct the flows, and more importance be determined by its capacity for innovation on multiple levels. 
“The huge move forward for a small country like my own, Denmark, with less than six million people as well as for a big country like China after 1979 is, to a large extent, based on their growing capacity to forge and contribute to the nature of these flows—in production, trade, finance, politics, technology, infrastructure, education, and research within an increasingly diversified national economy that reflects their participation in the recent developments of globalization,” Larsen said. 
Regarding globalization, Paolo Gerbaudo, director of the Centre for Digital Culture, King’s College London, pointed out a more general global awareness that the idea of a unified global market engulfing the entire world and preventing any area of the economy can limit countries’ internal development, and be an obstacle for their security and their political autonomy. 
“European policymakers are discussing the need for strategic autonomy, which aims at making the European Union capable of achieving more self-direction and more self-sufficiency in the technology sector. However, this need for self-sufficiency obviously doesn’t mean that countries should engage in autarky—the idea of a closure and complete economic autonomy,” Gerbaudo said, calling for a new globalization model during the high globalization phase. 
Call for deeper cooperation
Humanity shares one destiny. Only through mutual help and mutually beneficial cooperation can the fruits of development be shared by all peoples on the planet. This is what the China-proposed idea of the community with a shared future for mankind is about. 
David McLellan, a Professor Emeritus of Political Theory at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom, pinpointed three keywords in the theme of the forum: civilizations, changes, and China. Noticing the plural form of “civilizations,” McLellan said nonetheless that we are one world, one world together confronted by the crisis. In terms of the second keyword “changes,” he said that the most important change that confronts us at the moment is climate change, the climate crisis. 
With regard to “China,” McLellan noted that China is in a good position to confront and help with the world crisis. “China is a socialist country which is led by a communist party which is moving towards communism. And I want to say that communism contains the seeds of the answer to the present climate crisis,” he said. 
Since ancient times, the Chinese nation has been upholding harmony for human society. This is also the cultural root for the vision of the community with a shared future for mankind. In the world we are living in, history and reality interweave, while hopes and challenges coexist. To provide solutions to global development problems and cope with international security challenges, China has successively proposed the BRI, the Global Development Initiative, and the Global Security Initiative, building broad consensus and pooling strength to practice the concept of the community with a shared future for mankind. 
Rosario Santa Gadea Duarte, a professor and director of the Center for China and Asia-Pacific Studies at the University of the Pacific in Peru, spoke highly of China as a major engine of growth worldwide. “The world economy was severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but China remained strong,” she said, adding that the country has become a major driver of world trade.
China’s contributions to global development were also lauded by Enrique Dussel Peters, a professor and director of the Center for Chinese and Mexican Studies at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. From the perspective of cooperation between China and Latin America, he said that the two sides have entered the stage of high-quality cooperation and development. Moreover, a diversification process has been going on in terms of the sectors where infrastructure projects and cooperation have been materialized. Historically, most of the infrastructure projects of China in Latin America have concentrated on energy, mainly oil and gas. 
“In the last five years we see a shift: diversification of cooperation mainly in transportation, and also in green energy projects. And this more recent diversification process of infrastructure projects is affecting the day-to-day life of millions of inhabitants in Latin America, from Buenos Aires to Sao Paulo to Mexico City, also through airports, new railway lines, and subway stations, among others,” Peters said. 
China and Africa, though thousands of miles apart, have been engaging in close cooperation. By the end of 2021, 52 of the 53 African countries that have established diplomatic ties with China, as well as the African Union, had inked cooperative documents on jointly building the BRI with China. Cooperation over the initiative has reached almost all corners of Africa. Julian Kunnie, a professor from the University of Arizona in the United States, expressed gratification for that. He said that the achievements China has made are inseparable from the nation’s adherence to peaceful development. 
How can we follow the path of peaceful development and cooperation to achieve mutual benefits? Hatoyama offered an answer: “For human beings to overcome differences, eliminate antagonism, and maintain barrier-free communication, different countries and different civilizations should develop the ideas of independence and coexistence, and maintain each other’s peaceful development. This is exactly the connotation of the spirit of ‘fraternity’ (yu-ai), featuring mutual respect, mutual understanding, and mutual help, which I’ve been advocating.”
Without doubt, civilizations amid profound changes worldwide are a complex of problems with rich connotations. Neither a single country nor a single generation of scholars can solve them. Academics around the world need to conduct continuous observations, research, summarization, and reflections to rationally make sense of the world amid profound changes, deeply understand diverse civilizations, and constantly deepen exchanges and mutual learning between different civilizations.