Dialogue of Cultures in a Polycentric World

We are living in times of great changes, and these changes have convinced us that the world is becoming polycentric sooner than most of us might have expected, writes Nelson Wong, Vice Chairman of the Shanghai Centre for RimPac and International Studies, for the Valdai Club Youth conference.

With Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine entering its third year and the war in Gaza well into its sixth month, the world is in a state of flux. People have begun worrying about the possible spread and further escalation of these conflicts to the extent that there are discussions about the world sliding into another World War and the use or fear of nuclear weapons. It is apparent that the world has never been so divided since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Once again, we have fallen into the struggle between right and wrong, right and left, them and us.

More often than not, we have found ourselves caught in political discussions, either willingly or unwillingly, and feel the urge or are compelled to express our observations about world affairs, the future outlook, and the rationale of the foreign policies of our own country and sometimes of others. Our positions and opinions may sometimes differ, and this is especially the case when such discussions involve people from different countries, because our worldviews and perceptions can sometimes be miles apart. It is exactly such differences that, if not addressed fully and dealt with properly, will lead to misunderstandings and even confrontations.

Admittedly, our perceptions of the world are formed starting from the days of our school education, but as we grow older, they may become influenced and changed by the books we read, the places we visit, the people we meet, and of course, the public or privileged information we have access to. As the old saying goes, “the more you know, the less you know you know.” Being Chinese, I have been taught since early childhood that the world is big and is packed with people from different historical and cultural backgrounds, to whom we must show respect and from whom we can learn what we don’t know. We must remain humble in order to keep learning to become better human beings and to then hopefully become wiser as we grow older.

Global Alternatives 2024
Values 2040 in World Politics: From Global Disorder to Mosaic Unity
Oleg Barabanov
Time is the best healer when it comes to the wounds of history. Generations change and new eras arrive; the pain and suffering of victims of old conflicts is not forgotten, far from it, but it becomes less acute and is not transferred to children who didn’t bear witness to it. Oleg Barabanov, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, wonders if it will be possible to overcome the era of global disorder by 2040. This article was prepared especially for the Valdai Club Youth Conference.

The diversity of our civilisations and cultures has made the world colourful and interesting, but it also plays a big part in shaping our different perceptions on how and what we, our families and by natural progression our countries can do to survive and thrive. In China, for example, we celebrate constraint as a virtue and consider provocation to be uncivilised and unworthy. This is why in our efforts to seek reunification with Taiwan, China aspires to achieve our goal through peaceful means and has demonstrated great patience. Unfortunately, the US has chosen to meddle into China’s domestic affairs by encouraging separatists in Taiwan, because the island occupies an important and strategic location in the West Pacific.

Despite China’s repeated warnings and open statements that reunification with Taiwan is the country’s core interest, the US continues to play its game of “strategic ambiguity” by declaring its commitment to the One China policy and recognising the PRC to be the official representative of China at the United Nations and other world organisations on the one hand, while continuing to send its officials to Taiwan and arming the territory on the other. It is obvious that the US has never bothered to respect other people’s interest and believes it has the right of free reign with the benefit of it being still the most powerful country in the world. But is this right or ethical?

For the sake of argument, people have the right to believe that if the Ukrainians had been left alone way before 2014 to choose their own path and to solve their disagreements and disputes with Russia, if any, the situation in Ukraine might not have developed to what it is now with the ensuing loss of so many young men on the battlefield. If the US had let NATO, a military bloc meant for defending Western Europe, cease to exist following the end of the Cold War, a European security structure might have already been in place incorporating Russia as a partner, and, of course, the bombing in Yugoslavia would have never happened.

In the Middle East, if the state of Israel hadn’t been backed by the US over the years and wasn’t allowed to keep expanding into land that had been promised to the Palestinians by a UN resolution, the State of Palestine might already exist and the tragedy in Gaza today would have been avoided. If the US government hadn’t lied about finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in the 2000s and had complied with international law, the bombing in the country would not have taken place and millions of Iraqi lives would have been saved.

Furthermore, if the European colonialists hadn’t engaged in their tricks to “divide and conquer” in the first place and planted the mess in the region, the Arab world might have fared differently over the past several centuries, without so much misery at least.

The list goes on and on, although such arguments may be challenged depending on who you are and what you stand for. The scholars and experts of different countries may be busy analysing the global chessboard in order to develop strategies for protecting their national interests, but the question remains as to why all of this mess happened in the first place and what we must do to stop those war-mongers from depriving people of their right to live and to coexist in a peaceful environment.

No matter where one hails from or what he or she stands for, the multiplex theatre of the world today seems such that most of the regional conflicts and even wars can find their root causes in the imbalance of power, or to some at least, the struggle for supremacy among big powers. However, being Chinese, I would dare to say that this is not what China is aiming for as a nation. Our centuries of civilisation prove that we as Chinese may enjoy the applause of others for our achievements, but we are not those who enjoy bullying and subjugating others and do not have a history of practicing colonialism.

Our traditions tell us to be respectful towards others and that we should always try to resolve our disagreements with others through peaceful negotiation and compromise.

We are grateful to those who have helped us along the way, and we have reciprocated by offering the most competitive prices for our products to the rest of the world, the quality of which we have improved again and again, to the best of our ability, to meet the highest standards of our time. From product manufacturing to social governance, we study and learn from other peoples’ achievements, but we do not just copy and paste. Instead, we digest what we have learned and reinvented to make them suit our own needs, or to reflect what we believe is better. To us, this is what improvement and advancement is all about.

Those who know about China’s history and our philosophy are familiar with the fact that we celebrate restraint as a virtue, and the act of showing our muscle and being confrontational are considered unsophisticated and hence frowned upon in our culture. In most Chinese families, we teach our children to be disciplined, to respect our elderly, and to always be kind to other people. We are a nation of traders and like to do business with everyone, and always treat others and particularly our neighbours with due respect and tolerance because we believe in our old saying, which goes something like this: “a close neighbour is dearer and more important than a distant relative”.

Asia and Eurasia
Respecting Cultural Diversity Is Key to Surviving in a World of Multipolarity
Nelson Wong
For many in the West, East and South East Asia are generally perceived as a vast region that is relatively tranquil accommodating weaker and smaller nations that have held their heads down and stayed submissive to Western colonialists for hundreds of years, writes Nelson Wong, Vice Chairman, Shanghai Centre for RimPac Strategic and International Studies, for the 13th Asian conference of the Valdai Discussion Club.

Rather than taking sides in any regional conflicts or try to form and lead a military alliance to seek dominance, China is always seen as the party to call for peace or a ceasefire. This is also why China is not supplying weapons to either Russia or Ukraine and has been trying hard to help find solutions to bring an end to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. This is why China has been successful as a facilitator in having Saudi Arabia shake hands with Iran, and has been firm in its position to condemn the mass killings in Gaza and to call for the two-state solution from day one, since the outbreak of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It is not that China wants to change “the established rules and norms”. It is the colonialism of all kinds and the practice of hegemony that China stands up to detest and fight against. What the rest of the world should know is that these are not empty political slogans, rather, they are typical reflections of who we are as a nation.

US-China relations have experienced tremendous and fundamental changes over the past 50 years, with ups and downs. What is clear and obvious is that with China rising to become the world’s second-largest economy, the US is worried about losing its hegemonic control and is therefore trying all possible ways and means to contain China’s development. What’s unfortunate is that, instead of engaging China to find solutions for mutual benefit, the US has chosen to let the devil out of them by cooking up the so-called “China Threat” to demonise China and whipping up its allies to join its effort. Ignoring China’s kind suggestions and repeated reminders that we come from a different culture that values friendship with others more than our own gains, and in no way China is willing to replace the US for whatever it thinks it is, people in the establishment seem committed to wanting to take China down, even though they are not sure about their ability to win.

In all fairness, the US is still very much ahead of China in terms of technological innovation and the production of advanced systems and equipment, while China remains by and large at the lower end of the entire manufacturing process and is still even behind South Korea, Japan and many European countries in that respect. The US still plays a predominant role in the global financial system, with the US dollar remaining the most popular foreign reserve currency for most countries as well as for trade settlement worldwide. But it is unfair and immoral for the US to attempt to deprive other countries of their right to development. At least in our culture, we Chinese do not believe that competition should be understood as trying to disable others or to create mess and instability in and around other countries to distract their attention for the sake of harming them. To us, this is not competition, it is a mean and uncivilised act and should therefore be denounced and condemned.

Indisputably, China is now capable of manufacturing goods of all kinds and is the biggest trading partner of over 150 countries worldwide. Equally true, however, is that China’s production capacity stands at 160% of what the country can consume, and so when exports drop, China will definitely need to find alternative solutions by restructuring its overall economic components for continued growth and sustainability. As has been proven over the past few decades, with the highly entrepreneurial spirit of us Chinese people and our government’s strong leadership, we will continue to adjust to the changing market environment and to move forward with resolve.

Economic Statecraft
The Chinese View of the World: Is a Non-Zero-Sum Game Possible?
Ivan Timofeev
The People's Republic of China has appointed a new foreign minister. Qin Gang, a career diplomat who went through all the key stages of the PRC’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has become the head of the Foreign Ministry. His predecessor Wang Yi was appointed head of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee.

We are living in times of great changes, and these changes have convinced us that the world is becoming polycentric sooner than most of us might have expected. To ensure that our shared destiny will be a good and promising journey for all, China has of late pronounced three global initiatives: calling for continued and sustainable development, worldwide security, and civilisational advancement for humanity as a whole. Unfortunately, top US officials have refused to recognise China’s good intentions for publishing these proposals. In her speech at the recent Munich Security Conference, US Vice President Kamala Harris continued to demonise China by referring to these initiatives as China’s attempt to change “international rules and norms”.

What the US must realise, however, is that the world has changed; in order to be on the right side of history, the US must recognise and accept that the trajectory of the world towards polycentricity is already irreversible. The growing importance of BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and their continuing enlargement, as well as the growing voice from Europe to seek its independence, are evidence of the rising discontent of the world’s majority about the way the globe has been governed and manipulated.

The United States of America is a great country, with its leadership in science and technology, but it does not have the right to stop other countries from learning or catching up. Americans may be proud of their political and social system, but that does not give them the right to prevent other countries from choosing their own way of living, or pursuing their own path for social governance.

The Return of Diplomacy?
Charting the 2040: Younger Generation Insight on the World in the Making
The multipolar landscape of 2040 will resemble a sandbox, offering people the state as just one among various available choices, albeit one that remains the most common.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.