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Cultural reconciliation: a key parameter to sustain peace & development

WU BAIYI | 2021-10-29 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Wu Baiyi is former director and research fellow of the Institute of European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. 

In the name of strategic competition and institutional rivalry, the US unveiled campaigns to curb China on all fronts, from tariff hikes and high-tech blocks, to naval cruises into Chinese territorial waters. Even in the midst of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the last two years, disinformation on China occurred in Western media. As a consequence, concerns increased across the world on how likely the US and the West are to engage in a new Cold War with China. There are also pessimistic views inside China, arguing that the era of peace and development has come to an end and is to be replaced by “3C” (competition, confrontation, and conflict) among great powers.  Is the world really on the verge of another all-out confrontation between the East and the West? Are they definitely foes of ideology?  Who and what can ultimately determine that the era of peace and development will leave or remain?   

Identity differences to be overcome
Perception comes partly from the facts, and partly is affected by cultural elements. 
Since the mid-19th century, China has undergone phases of “Close-off--Opening-up.” It obtained both access to Western modernity and the tortures of humiliation. During the Cold War years, such contacts were limited. Beijing’s opening-up in the late 1970s was no longer a passive decision. It came from Deng Xiaoping’s strategic judgment that the nation should actively break down isolation from the West. The opening-up continuously transformed Chinese society from being introverted to an outgoing one. At the same time, China never tended to embrace the West at the expense of its sovereignty, institutions, or cultural identity. It introduced and applied foreign concepts and paradigms only when they proved to fit the local conditions through experimentation beforehand. 
As another industrial revolution is upcoming, all nations must overcome identity differences and cultural barriers to adapt to, learn, and deal with the dramatic change together. They will be in bad need of each other to jointly create complying ethics, norms, rules, and jurisdiction to develop, protect, and survive. With regard to security challenges, the massive data collection and computing in a broader scope will enable all involved parties to track down clues and share evidence and intelligence of transnational crimes, terror attacks, and crises. It is only relying on such connectiveness that cross-border ecological, demographic, and public health disasters could be effectively deterred and prevented. All these possible developments will not just entail various multilateral utilization of data resources, but produce new collaborative cultures. 
Although China and the West are of different civilizations, they are bound to inherit four common values left by contemporary world history. The first is pacifism. It has been deeply-embedded in European politics and the general public’s mindset since World War II ended. The Chinese case is likewise. In the past seven decades, there were few wars they actively launched or involved themselves in. Both China and Europe are basically safeguarding forces of the United Nations Charter and the peace and stability of the world. The second value is openness. China and the EU are firm advocates to open and free trade and opposed to any form of protectionism. Thirdly, China and the EU have an overlapping and enduring interest in multilateral institutions. Both were beneficiaries of regional and global partner networks, and they will remain committed to new transcontinental institution-building (the B&R Initiative, AIIB, etc.). Finally, China and Europe abide by the pluralistic principle of “cultural equality and coexistence.” 
Cultural reconciliation expected
In sum, China and the West stand at a historical juncture. To move toward a common goal of peace and development, we need to correctly re-identify our cultural contest, not letting it become a “zero-sum” game and fulfill the assumption of “clash of civilizations.” The next several years will see how we navigate through the current confusion and difficulties, and presumably such a course may have three phases to unfold.
The first one is “a phase of intense hedging.” As China continues to catch up and narrow its gaps in sophisticated technologies and arts, anxieties and psychological stress may provoke a radical Western rejection of China. China has to make persevering efforts to maintain dialogue with the West. Through this test, it will become more patient and mature in dealing with the West.
The second phase will be full of “reflections and adjustments.” Unlike the previous decade, extremist sentiments are fading out in the West. People are inclined to think on effective solutions to domestic political chaos. Meanwhile, China may provide a reference to another type of political and cultural reform. Beijing sets the year of 2035 as a threshold of becoming a comprehensively modernized nation. Within this period, the two-way communication of cultures may be accelerated to a new level. The China-West cognitive gaps get remarkably improved.
In the third phase, changing circumstances would usher in the Sino-Western cultural reconciliation. First, a multipolar world is already well in shape. Second, the new globalization succeeds with a relatively fair redistribution of power and profits benefit, making the South-North relations notably improved. Third, mutual understanding and anticipation become stable between China and the West, thus providing dynamics to forge the common values of human beings.
This is an excerpt from Wu Baiyi’s paper submitted to the forum. 
Edited by BAI LE