It is difficult to predict the future; it is even more difficult to understand the present, but we clearly understand that the world is not just on the verge of radical changes; it has already witnessed them, and Asia has a front-row seat.
It is customary, and in our time it is common to talk about the confrontation, for example, between East and West, or between North and South, Europe and Asia. Because of our different civilisations, contradictions between their respective value systems are inevitable. Quite often, Rudyard Kipling is freely quoted: West is West, East is East, and never the twain shall meet:
Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!
And here’s what’s interesting — in my opinion, of course, strictly speaking, Kipling writes that these contradictions between cultures are not so important. People are people everywhere, the similarity of their motives, behaviour, mistakes and achievements is much more important than the civilizational differences studied by numerous analysts. After all, if the anthropologists are right, we all have common ancestors. One woman and one man from Africa. By the way, they seemed to be unfamiliar and could have lived at different times.
Obviously today we are experiencing a deep civilizational crisis. One of its manifestations is a radical change in the world hierarchy, the system of interaction between people, nations, and states.
Asia, if we understand it as broadly as possible, has obviously shifted from a ‘catching up’ part of the world to an advanced one; it is the area of the world that sets development trends and is able to play a completely independent role in global politics and economics. This role, of course, is not fully understood. Moreover, it is not clear if this is a singular role or if there are several roles, since Asia is vast and diverse. China, India and Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand, Iran and Iraq, the countries of the Middle East, all these and other countries have their own interests, their own views on what is happening, their own societies. But all of this huge community is obviously developing, gaining momentum, and becoming an important element of the world economy.
The fact that Asia — and with it the whole of Eurasia, and with it the whole world — is waiting for a great future has been clear for a long time. Probably from the time of the formation of human civilization. Which, by the way, was immediately distinguished by the fact that it was global in nature. The resettlement of people around the world is a confirmation of this. As well as the ability, even in Neolithic times, to exchange goods and technology: from ceramics to metallurgy.
But in the last hundred or two hundred years, the process of international communication and global interaction has accelerated sharply: transport, communications, weapons, and social manipulation technologies have united the world more and more. But any unification means the necessity of distinctions, hierarchy, and individuality. The more we are united, the more tools we need in order not to turn into a mere faceless mass of living beings. In a sense, the main task of culture is the maximum of individuation while maintaining a sense of community. Simply speaking, there are more and more of us, we live in more and more countries and cultures, but we are all people. We can never have less in common than we do which makes us different. Otherwise, the risks for all of us grow.
In this respect, Asia is an amazing example. As, by the way, are Africa and Latin America, but we won’t touch on them in this text. Asia is obviously a multipolar cosmos of billions of people. For all its diversity — from the size of populations to the economies of countries — Asia is a relatively peaceful part of the world. Of course, there are enough conflicts and contradictions there, which sometimes lead to bloody clashes. At least the Afghan story is worth remembering. Although at the same time there is the danger of external interventions, regardless of the intentions. But still, Asia is an example, I repeat, albeit a difficult one, of the ability to moderate the level of confrontation, interact amid very difficult circumstances and find more or less mutually acceptable solutions. This is confirmed by the rapid economic growth and the radical improvement in the situation of billions of people in a historically short period of time.
Moreover, many countries in Asia show us that they are finding completely new ways to be independent and successful. When observing the development of South Korea or Singapore, Thailand or Vietnam, one can conclude that these countries have managed to build new societies for the whole world, create new identities, and move relatively traditional Asian societies into the global environment; even to shape it. At the same time, they have not lost their traditional identity, and they’ve managed to create their own individuality in the modern world. Each of these countries has managed to create its own unique political organisation, which is difficult to bring under the rather hardened criteria of traditional Western political science, such as a straightforward and facile division into democracy and autocracy, for example. Although, the issue of values, of course, will not be cancelled.
Therefore, the main thing here is, as I said, that we should not adjust everything to some kind of template, but see how this or that political organisation corresponds to the system of values common to everyone: the ability of an individual to live his life with dignity and make the life of future generations reasonable and convenient.
In this regard, I think that the division of the world into East and West, Asia and Europe is intellectually out-dated. It is in Asia that a new wave of societies is being created, one which overcomes all previous distinctions. In Asia — and elsewhere — a new world is emerging; a diverse society capable of responding to the request of a modern type of personality. This request is complex and diverse. Of course, all these are the subjects of a large and meaningful discussion.
St. Petersburg will host a Valdai Club conference titled “Russia and Asia in the Emerging International Order,” which is supposed to discuss various aspects of both the development of Asia and Russia’s relations with the countries of the region, together with experts from both Asia itself and other regions.
A little over a century ago, the eminent Russian writer Andrei Bely published his novel Petersburg, full of amazing foresight. He argued that Petersburg itself is the meeting place and link between East and West, Asia and Europe. Not the bridge, but namely a connection. Who knows? Unfortunately, historical time and the lifetime of an individual do not coincide. For each of us, a human life is just a moment for history, which sometimes fails to notice the details.
But — perhaps — we are seeing the emergence of a new New World.