Chinese President Xi Jinping said in 2014 at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in Paris that, “We need to encourage different civilisations to respect each other and live together in harmony while promoting their exchanges and mutual learning as a bridge of friendship among peoples, a driving force behind human society and a strong bond for world peace.”
Seven years have passed though, but Xi’s vision of civilisation featuring diversity, equality and inclusiveness in his UNESCO keynote speech is still reverberating in a world that is grappling with the raging COVID-19 pandemic as well as global political and socio-economic challenges.
Seed of peace
In that speech, XI noted that, “Throughout the centuries, people have yearned for lasting peace, but war has haunted mankind every step of their progress. As we speak, many children on this planet are subjected to the horror of armed conflict.Indeed, for quite some time, people in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and other countries in turmoil have been suffering from unimaginable violence and indignities. Stigmatisation, xenophobia, racism and discrimination as well as hate speech have also been running wild in many parts of the world.
Dima al-Kaed, a Syrian citizen said she lost both her parents during the war. “I once dreamed of changing the world, but the war has changed my dream,” she said, holding a photo of herself taken when she graduated from the University of Damascus years ago.
Faiz Ahmed, an Afghan citizen living in the city of Kabul who is about to reach his 50s, said he has spent almost his whole life in an environment of war and violence. “I have not seen a single day of peace in my homeland. I hope that my country can achieve lasting peace and stability as soon as possible and I pray to experience such a day.
XI however said, “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” To keep war as far away as possible from mankind, Xi provided a solution saying, “We have to step up inter-civilisation activities in education, science, technology and culture across border, time and space to spread the seeds of the idea of peace far and wide so that they would sprout, take root and grow in the hearts and minds of the people and provide the planet we share with more and more forests of peace.”
These are not empty talks. In fact, guided by Xi’s wisdom on peace, China has been making great contributions to regional and global stability, development and prosperity.
The country is now the largest contributor of personnel to United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Moreover, the country has played a constructive role in addressing global issues such as the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and the conflicts in the Middle East.
“China always works to resolve conflicts with peaceful methods and giving priority to the logic of humanity and of the international law over the logic of force and hegemony,” said Muhammad Zahra, a Syrian expert on China affairs.”The idea of peace espoused by Xi does resonate very well with the fundamental principles of harmonious coexistence between people,” said Cavince Adhere, an international relations researcher in Kenya. “We have seen this to be the basis of Chinese engagement both at home and abroad,” he said.
According to XI years ago, “We need a mind that is broader than the sky as we approach different civilizations. We should seek wisdom and nourishment from various civilisations to provide support and consolation for people’s minds and work together to tackle the challenges facing mankind.”His remarks still bear profound significance now as the world is yet to walk out of the severe global public health crisis brought about by COVID-19.While COVID-19 vaccines must be a global public good, accessible and affordable for all, as emphasized by UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres in February, some western countries have stockpiled large quantities of vaccines against the virus, creating stark inequity between the rich and the poor.According to The New York Times, residents of wealthy and middle-income countries have received about 90 percent of the nearly 400 million vaccines delivered so far.
Against such a backdrop, China, as a responsible major country with a broader mind to help humanity prevail against the common enemy, has not only delivered medical supplies and sent expert teams to places in need at the early stage of the fight, but also made an all-out effort to promote the fair distribution of the vaccines.
So far, China has provided vaccine assistance to 80 countries in need and is exporting vaccines to 47 countries. It has also decided to provide 10 million vaccine doses to the multilateral vaccine alliance COVAX to meet the urgent needs of developing countries and to donate vaccines to UN peacekeepers.As the second batch of the Sinovac vaccines donated by China arrived in the Philippines recently, the country’s health secretary Francisco Duque said, “The arrival of these vaccines could not have occurred at a more opportune time considering the continued rise in cases.
“China the lion has awakened, but it is a peaceful, amicable and civilized lion,” Xi said in 2014 at a gathering marking the 50th anniversary of the establishment of China-France diplomatic relations, stressing that the Chinese dream is about pursuing peace, questing for happiness, and contributing to the common good of the world.
“As the Chinese vaccines were released and aided, this becomes the biggest proof of China’s sincerity of intentions and its willingness to lend a helping hand and reach out to everyone who needs it,” Ahmed Bahaa El-Din Shaaban, secretary-general of the Egyptian Socialist Party, had said.”What China is doing is beyond nationalism,” said Farhat Asif, president of the Islamabad-based Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies. “It’s not for the one nation, and it’s for a community of the shared future. When you’re saving somebody, when you’re saving a life, it’s also saving humanity.”
Harmony without uniformity
In today’s uncertain world, where protectionism, unilateralism and the so-called clash of civilizations are on the rise, and where some western countries are forming cliques, turning back the wheel of history, inciting division along ideological lines, or instigating confrontation between different groups, Xi’s remarks have become even more thought-provoking.
“To meet our common challenges and create a better future for all, we look to culture and civilisation to play their role, which is as important as the role played by economy, science and technology,” Xi said in 2019 at the opening ceremony of the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilisations.
Through a series of global events and within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRICS that groups emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, the Belt and Road Initiative, and other organisations, Xi has continuously stressed the wisdom of harmony without uniformity which the Chinese have come to appreciate. Over the past seven years, during his trips to other countries, the Chinese president has offered to the world the Chinese idea of upholding inclusiveness.
China has initiated an important dialogue among civilisations, sharing with other countries the ideas that the only way of peaceful coexistence is through understanding, through communication to resolve all differences, said Asif, adding this is the essence of China’s peaceful scene at the global level.
“On international exchanges as an avenue of cementing peace and development across the world, China has also played a very key role,” said Adhere. For example, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation has become a key platform to promote multi-civilisational exchanges between China and African countries, he said, adding it is only through these exchanges that people can have mutual understanding.
“This decision by China to promote civilisational exchanges is a key component. It speaks to the aspiration of the UN, the multilateral settings and it is something that eventually leaves every human being better,” he said.
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