May 18, 2021
First version – to be revised
I was recently asked by Abhishek Bhaya at CGTN – China Global Television Network, see Wikipedia here and the network itself here with about 150 million followers across the globe – whether, as a peace researcher, I had any ideas what decision-makers in both the West and in China could do to avoid the worst possible scenario – given the present confrontation, or Cold War-like atmosphere.
It’s the first time in a very long time that any media asked me a question about peace – that discourse has disappeared or been disappeared. In preparing my answer, I wrote this:
- It seems pretty unlikely that the US under Biden/Blinken should come to its senses quickly, if at all. Policy documents, statement and budget laws point in the direction of a well-planned long-term Cold War-like campaign against anything China – 7-8 standard negative stories, perhaps some new coming – and no positive news or analyses. This applies to research, media and politic – in the US and, very much too, among its allies whose capacity for alternatives-to-Washington thinking has come down close to zero during the last decades.
- So, perhaps it would be wise to not expect much good from the “decision-makers”. Instead, let’s look at what is very dear to the Chinese way of thinking of society – the importance of ordinary citizens of all walks of life – and ask: What would we, the peoples, do to counter negative attitudes and build peace between our cultures and countries? I mean, one fallacy of Western political thinking is that governments who are run by people who have been elected will also do what the people want them to do. We know that that is not true.
- One catchword would be citizens’ diplomacy – coupled with citizens media and citizens’ policy – even, perhaps citizens’ research or, at least, mutual learning through dialogue. Citizens diplomacy has been practised for decades between both British and US citizens, on the one hand, and Russian citizens (and decision-making circles), some of the first being the British Quakers.
- I’ll just make use of a very simple observation – my own and that of lots of other people: A large majority of those who travel to, say, China, Russia or Iran, and experience it with their own eyes and ears return home and say something like this: “It was so much more interesting, multi-faceted and hospitable – I found the country and the people much much more positive than the image I had from my domestic media before I want.” I myself visited China as a member of a Danish cultural delegation back in 1983 and travelled around completely on my own with no fixed plan for 6 weeks in 2018. Although I never believed the Western demonization, I did experience in innumerable ways the huge difference between real reality and medialised “reality” – the same as I have in all conflict zones I’ve worked in.
So could this sort of experience, this positive potential, be used constructively for bridge-building purposes?
- China is now (2017 statistics) the fourth most visited country in the world. France received 87 million tourists, Spain 82 million, the US 76 million and China 61 million foreign visitors (Forbes 2018). Important too is that about 850 000 foreigners live permanently in China, however of course only a minority from the West. Turn the picture around and 155 million Chinese tourists go abroad every year. After the Corona, all this is going to increase – provided the Western campaign does not convince Westerners that it is dangerous to visit China. Another potential resource would be the fact that about 50 million Chinese live abroad, about 13 of them in Europe, the Americas and elsewhere.
There is something to build on here. The personal human face-to-face meeting remains important in everyone’s life.
- Imagine that Chinese and Western citizens opened up for much more mutual visits and contacts – study or learning tourism, dialogues via Zoom and WeChat, school exchanges, culture and sports exchanges; that researchers did much more to link up and explore possible cooperative projects and peace-making.
Imagine much more Citizens’ journalism that is already practised by foreigners who live in China permanently and have their own channels on YouTube or Vimeo and tell their fellow citizens what they experience from inside China. It could be expanded. The China-negative Western media and news bureaus no longer deserve to have a sort of monopoly and it can be broken by many more knowledgeable media entrepreneurs in years to come.
I do not predominantly think of trips arranged by Chinese government authorities – although that could be speeding up too – for instance, inviting even more international governmental and civil society organisations to China and to see for themselves – dialogue and learn.
Imagine that Western civil society organisations, CSOs – such as the peace movements – began to work systematically with their Chinese counterparts. Yes, they have little funds – but it is affordable to use Zoom and set up networks of cooperation about mutually important topics – such as how to conduct dialogues and create mutual learning platforms – and prepare later meeting in reality.
And imagine how useful it could to expand the idea of friendship cities – pairing or gathering more around certain themes of mutual interest.
And why not add friendship professions – Western and Chinese engineers, doctors, entertainers, authors, architects – having the same profession means that it is easier to start talking, doesn’t it?
It would, of course, be naive to believe that all these millions of people on both sides would see themselves as peace-makers or would want to be. But there might be an under-utilised potential here of quite some importance for the future – particularly if this type of citizens’ diplomacy would get on more people’s and organisations’ radar and corporations and others would invest in it.
I am not in doubt that it would be a win-win for all. People love to do important things and most people are curious and open-minded. If given an opportunity.
In an era where the Western mantra is win/lose – and will lead to lose/lose and undermine the problem solving of humanity’s common problems, thinking along the above lines may be much more realistic than waiting for Western decision-makers to build peace. They have not been good at that anywhere.
So let’s give people – and peace – a new chance!
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