The Third Dialogue on Exchanges and Mutual Learning Among Civilizations and the First World Conference of Sinologists was held in Beijing on July 3-4. Held under the auspices of the International Department of the CPC Central Committee, it was hosted by the Chinese Association for International Understanding (CAFIU) and organised by the China National Archives of Publications and Culture and Beijing Language and Culture University.
Chinese Vice President Han Zheng attended and addressed the opening session, where he also read a letter of greetings sent by President Xi Jinping. In his letter, President Xi said that in the long course of human history, various nations have created civilizations with their own characteristics and symbols, and equal exchanges and mutual learning among different civilizations will provide strong spiritual guidance for humanity to solve the problems of the times and achieve common development. He also stressed that China is willing to work with all parties to advocate the universal values of peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy and freedom, and to implement the Global Civilization Initiative.
Other speakers in the opening session – in person or via video link – included former Spanish socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and party and state leaders from the Central African Republic, Mauritania and Malaysia.
Friends of Socialist China Co-editors Keith Bennett, Carlos Martinez and Danny Haiphong participated in the conference. On the second day, Danny chaired a parallel session, which included speakers from China, Kazakhstan, Bangladesh, Cuba, Thailand, Mongolia and South Africa.
Keith spoke at another parallel session, alongside speakers from China, Ireland, Russia, Kenya, Mauritius, USA, Cameroon, Indonesia, Malaysia, Türkiye and Iran.
The closing session included video addresses by Bertie Ahern, former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland and former leader of the Fianna Fáil party, and Erik Solheim, former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.
We reprint below Keith’s speech to the conference. An article version has been published in China Today.
Dear Comrades and Friends
It is a great honor for me to be invited to contribute some thoughts to this Third Dialogue on Exchanges and Mutual Learning among Civilizations. Thank you for your invitation.
Humanity has a history of civilization dating back millennia. Civilizations arose and developed on different continents and at different times. But they prospered and innovated through mutual exchanges and mutual learning. The ancient Silk Road, which began in China, is one of the greatest examples of this.
Through such routes, Roman remains have been found in China and Chinese silk and coins were to be found in the markets of Ancient Rome. Admiral Zheng He introduced the products of Chinese civilization from South East Asia to East Africa while merchants and traders from the Middle East found their way to China, becoming in time part of the great, diverse but united family of the Chinese nation.
Of course, previous history, since primitive communism gave way to class society, is by no means devoid of conflict, but it was, above all, the rise of capitalism and modern imperialism, which, from 1492 especially, fundamentally disrupted humanity’s inter-civilizational relationships.
As Karl Marx put it in Volume 1 of his most celebrated work, Capital:
“The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.”
Exchange and cooperation between civilizations were replaced by conflict and oppression. Powerful forces in the West are still unable to fundamentally break from this essential paradigm. This, for example, is what animates the dystopian theory of the ‘clash of civilizations’, put forward by the late US academic Samuel Huntington, writing in 1998, in the wake of the dramatic events over the preceding decade, from the collapse and dissolution of the Soviet Union to the Iraq War.
There is one leader and one statesman in the contemporary world who is advancing a fundamentally different paradigm. One advocating such common human values as peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy, and freedom. One insisting that different approaches to modernization can be pioneered and developed and have every right to do so.
On March 15 this year, I was privileged to participate in the online ‘CPC in Dialogue with World Political Parties High-level Meeting’ and to hear His Excellency President Xi Jinping unveil the Global Civilization Initiative, the latest of his programmatic initiatives designed to realize a community of shared future for humanity.
As President Xi noted:
“All civilizations created by human society are splendid. They are where each country’s modernization drive draws its strength and where its unique features come from. They, transcending time and space, have jointly made important contributions to humanity’s modernization process. Chinese modernization, as a new form of human advancement, will draw upon the merits of other civilizations and make the garden of world civilizations more vibrant.”
Countries, the Chinese President explains, need to keep an open mind in appreciating the values of different civilizations and they should refrain from imposing their own values or models on others and from stoking ideological confrontation.
This represents a fundamentally different concept and approach from that practiced by the various colonial and now neocolonial powers for the last more than 500 years, up to and including the present. However, it fully accords with the sentiments and interests of the vast mass of developing countries and their peoples, the overwhelming majority of humanity, and the inheritors of great, ancient and time-honoured civilizations.
Moreover, it also accords with the objective interests of the great majority of the population in every country, whether developing or developed.
Such existential threats to humanity as impending climate catastrophe, zoonotic pandemics, and nuclear annihilation, along with numerous other challenges, from terrorism to cybercrime, to the challenges and opportunities of Artificial Intelligence, cannot be solved simply behind national barriers or with a ‘beggar my neighbor’ or ‘winner takes all’ mentality. Nor can all peoples’ need for peace and development be realised in this way.
As President Xi Jinping pointed out from the 19th National Party Congress onwards, socialism with Chinese characteristics offers a new option for those countries that wish to rapidly develop their economies while maintaining their independence. This is an important example of the contribution of Chinese wisdom and Chinese experience to the quest for sustainable solutions to the problems facing humanity.
President Xi’s concept of a community of shared future for humanity is an important component of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era and a further step in the Sinification of Marxism. As such, it has deep roots in the theory and practice of the Chinese revolution.
In one of his most famous and celebrated articles, Chairman Mao wrote of Dr Norman Bethune:
“What kind of spirit is this that makes a foreigner selflessly adopt the cause of the Chinese people’s liberation as his own? It is the spirit of internationalism, the spirit of communism.”
Today, we can also say that is the spirit of a community of shared future, the only viable option for humanity.
Thank you for your attention.