President in praise of diversity

No civilization is superior over others, Xi Jinping told an international audience at the opening ceremony of the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations in Beijing. 

There would be no clash of civilizations, and “no civilization is superior over others,” said Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday at the opening of the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations in Beijing to representatives of 47 Asian countries and nearly 50 nations outside the region.

“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 said in his keynote speech.

“If human civilizations are reduced to only one single color or one single model, the world would become a stereotype and too dull a place to live in. What we need is to respect each other as equals, and say no to hubris and prejudice.”

Xi’s message was echoed by many leaders speaking at the inaugural conference, who noted global challenges and emphasized the commonality and diversity of different civilizations while calling for openness, inclusiveness, interaction and dialogue to build a better future for Asians and humanity as a whole. 

Such features of Asian culture were also shared by scholars outside the region who had come from all over the world to take part in the conference and its sub-forums that will last till May 22.

“I really feel that there is great wisdom and foundation of culture and philosophy here which can be applied to governance,” American-born Laurence Brahm, a senior research fellow with the Center for China and Globalization, told Shanghai Daily. “The key issue is consensus.”

“The systems of the West are based on duality, and the systems of Asia are all about synergy and harmony, and therefore the view in Asia is not to deal with conflict openly, but to deal with it subtly, and to find commonality over differences as opposed to having a zero sum game over differences to have one side win and another lose,” he said.

“In the concept of Asia, it is all win. It is pragmatic. Therefore I think the consensus of approach that we see emerging from the summit is really the value paradigm for Asian governance.”

Many leaders and scholars at the conference were also concerned with various challenges facing humanity, as they promoted seeking solutions through dialogue.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena specifically mentioned the April 21 terrorist bomb attacks as he said: “We are still in fear and horror and especially in uncertainty over this unexpected situation.”

He opened his speech by saying: “It is a policy and a concept accepted by all of us that no civilization can be suppressed by any other civilization,” adding that “in order to strengthen the unity, alliance and the friendship between the nations, it is essential to recognize the unique civilizations and the cultures of other nations.”

Chen Kangling, an assistant professor at the China Institute of Fudan University, noted China’s important role as an ancient civilization in Asia, with a unique experience to share. 

“President Xi’s speech has sent a strong message from China — Asian civilizations are about dialogue and inclusiveness, rather than conflicts,” he told Shanghai Daily. 

“As an important Asian civilization, China has long engaged and interacted internally with its own various ethnic groups, as well as externally with other cultures.” 

He added: “For centuries, many countries in the region have learned from Chinese culture and system while we have imported mathematics, religions, goods and cultures from them through the Silk Road. To balance the preservation of traditional heritage with vitalized modernization can often be an issue for ancient civilizations, and China has a unique experience to share in this aspect."

Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos called the event “a forum for all civilizations,” adding that he came because Beijing is inviting the West to participate in the dialogue.

“We have more in common than in things that divide us. On this basis, we can build a better future for us and for coming generations,” he said. 

He described the difference between the way of the East and the West, saying that for Westerners, the way of civilization is one leading to specific directions, while the Eastern, and especially Chinese Taoism is one of evolution, where the whole process is eternally renewed through a state of harmony, which leads to sustainable creations.

The opening day also included six parallel forums that discussed topics that included Asian governance, the diversity of Asian civilizations and the responsibility of young people.

The Asian Culture Carnival, a highlight of the event, opened on Wednesday evening in the presence of international celebrities that included action star Jackie Chan, pianist Lang Lang and Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.

In the months to come, various exhibitions, performances and festivals across the nation will showcase shared and distinct Asian cultures.

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