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April 27, 2023
American political scientist Francis Fukuyama declared in his “End of History and The Last Man,” published in 1992,that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War era in 1991 marked “not just the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: That is, the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”
A utopian, rosy picture of a world living a submissive, silent, and in Fukuyama’s word “boring” life under what turned out to be a sword of the Western liberal democratic military power. The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 was followed by the U.S. invasion of Panama a month later in December 1989. In 1991 Operation Desert Storm against Iraq ushered in the new era of “shock and awe” where Western liberal democratic powers used massive air power and weapons equipped with depleted uranium and harsh economic sanctions to subdue developing nations.
In the case of Iraq, the destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure and the subsequent sanctions killed more than a million Iraqis in one decade. 500,000 were children, whose death U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright bragged was a fair price to pay to contain Saddam Hussein.
This was followed by NATO’s bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999. The 9/11, 2001 terror attacks in the U.S. gave a blank check to the U.S., Britain, and their willing allies to launch a series of invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. The horrific war and famine in Yemen were rthe esults of this “war on terrorism”. These invasions destroyed whole state structures and gave rise to such awful phenomena as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State, making the self-fulfilling prophecy of the clash of the West with Islam a reality.
Fukuyama’s teacher Samuel Huntington, steeped in British geopolitics and perpetual war mentality, dampened his student’s apparent “optimistic” views with a call for the liberal democratic West to be on the alert. In his 1996 book “The Clash of Civilizations and The Remaking of The World Order”, based on a series of articles published since 1993, advocated that a clash between the dominant Western liberal democratic order on the one hand and Islam and a Confucian China on the other was inevitable.
Huntington wrote: “The West is and will remain for years to come the most powerful civilization. Yet its power relative to that of other civilizations is declining. As the West attempts to assert its values and to protect its interests, non-Western societies confront a choice. Some attempt to emulate the West and to join or to “band-wagon” with the West. Other Confucian and Islamic societies attempt to expand their own economic and military power to resist and to “balance” against the West. A central axis of post-Cold War world politics is thus the interaction of Western power and culture with the power and culture of non-Western civilizations.”
Three decades after these “prophesies” were pronounced, tens of millions of innocent people have been killed, maimed or made homeless seeking refuge around the globe, economies destroyed, and trillions of dollars wasted on weapons and ammunitions.
Still, the world looks more unsafe than ever, and a cold war, in the best of cases, or a hot WWIII, in the worst case, are looming. Those in Western corridors of power, who are drunk with the fantasy of the superiority of a flawless Western liberal democratic system, are sleep-walking the whole human civilization into extinction through a thermonuclear holocaust.
Asia’s rise source of optimism
The only bright spot in the past three decades of serial wars and economic-financial crises is the rise of Asia with China at its core. More and more nations are gravitating towards this new centre of economic power, optimism, and a belief in a common future of all mankind. This process, representing a new paradigm shift, was accelerated with the launching of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, the 2014 Fortaleza Declaration of the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), and the expansion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) into a garden of nations of Confucian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist Christian, and other faiths across Eurasia.
As the world’s developments and challenges increased and became more complex, China backed the BRI with the Global Development Initiative (GDI) in 2021, the Global Security Initiative (GSI) in 2022, and just recently, the Global Civilization Initiative (GCI).
A breakthrough in global governance and relations
The GCI, which was launched by President Xi during his keynote address at the Communist Party of China (CPC) Dialogue with World Political Parties High-Level Meeting on March 15 this year, is a unique proposal for establishing the goals of global governance and relations among nations and cultures. It raises the bar of political dialogue to a completely new level to address such philosophical issues as the purpose of the existence of nations and civilizations and the means through which the achievement of a peaceful co-existence among nations of the world who are so diverse in culture, history, religion, way of life, and political and social systems is reached.
The last time such a speech with such intellectual brightness and optimism was given by a leader of a super power was delivered by President John F. Kennedy at American University on June 10,th 1963.
Speaking of global peace, Kennedy said: “What kind of a peace do I mean? What kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and build a better life for their children — not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women — not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.”
A few months earlier, Kennedy had succeeded to end the Cuban Missile Crisis with the Soviet Union peacefully, a crisis which had brought the whole world to the edge of potential extinction through nuclear war. Kennedy had also made clear in another speech at Rice University in September 1962 the purpose of space exploration, scientific and technological progress as a mission of the American nation, but without undermining other nations and with sharing the fruits of that progress with all mankind.
President Xi, in his launching of the Global Civilisation Initiative has revived that optimistic spirit for a dangerously divided world today. It can potentially bury both the “clash of civilizations” and “end of history” insane and dangerous fantasies.
Xi started his speech by posing a number of deep and timely questions regarding the path towards modernization which China and also other nations may take. He said: “Polarization or common prosperity? Pure materialistic pursuit or coordinated material and cultural-ethical advancement? Draining the pond to catch the fish or creating harmony between man and nature? Zero-sum game or win-win cooperation? Copying other countries’ development model or achieving independent development in light of national conditions? What kind of modernization do we need and how can we achieve it?”
The answers Xi provided are manifold but focused on several clear principles:
First, modernization and progress must be people-centered, which means both that “the people are the creators of history and are the strongest bedrock and force in advancing modernization” and also that “the ultimate goal of modernization is people’s free and well-rounded development.”
Second, there is a cultural and civilizational aspect of modernization which must not be ignored, otherwise a materialistic society would ultimately become soulless consumer society. He said that “modernization is not only about indicators and statistics on the paper but more about the delivery of a happy and stable life for the people”, adding that “with a focus on the people’s aspirations for a better life and further progress of civilization, political parties should strive to achieve material abundance, political integrity, cultural-ethical enrichment, social stability, and pleasant living environments.”
Third, the focus is not merely on fulfilling the needs of the current generations but that of future generations too. “In this way, modernization will promote the sustainable development of humanity by not only increasing the wellbeing of this generation but also protecting the rights and interest of future generations”, Xi emphasized.
Fourth, while there are general (universal) laws governing the process of modernization, nations must seek their independent path towards modernization and there are no “superior” models to copy. “Modernization is not ‘an exclusive patent’ of a small handful of countries, nor is it a single answer question. It cannot be realized by a cookie cutter approach or simple ‘copy and paste’”, Xi said.
He emphasized that “developing countries have the right and ability to independently explore the modernization path with their distinctive features based on their national realities.” Underlying the fact this independence of nations does not mean contradictions and conflicts but that “the development paths independently chosen by different peoples to jointly usher in a new prospect for humanity’s modernization that is like a garden where a hundred flowers bloom.”
Fifth, in a changing world with new opportunities emerging from scientific, technological, and cultural progress, or challenges emerging from man-made or natural disasters, nations and political parties must seek new ways of achieving their national modernization goals and free themselves from the restrictions imposed by rigid ideologies.
“We should break the shackles of stale thinking, remove institutional barriers, explore new methods and new approaches, and break new ground in theories and practices to instill unceasing dynamism into the modernization process,” he emphasized. This principle of innovation, unlike Fukuyama’s professed end of political evolution, also applies to global governance matters, in Xi’s view mean that “we should work together to reform and develop the global governance system and make the international order more just and equitable as we advance humanity’s modernization in an environment of equal rights, equal opportunities and fair rules for all.”
Sixth, moving into a more inspiring area of global governance with a distinct “Westphalian Peace” quality of striving “to benefit the other” as an integral element in a nation’s own self interest, Xi suggested that “we must help others to succeed while seeking our own success and ensure all can enjoy the outcomes of modernization.” The grounds for this thinking is that “humanity lives in a community with a shared future where we rise and fall together,” according to Xi.
Banishing all imperialistic zero-sum-thinking, Xi argues that “for any country to achieve modernization, it should pursue common development through solidarity and cooperation and follow the principles of joint contribution, shared benefits and win-win outcome.” Put more poetically, he said that the frontrunners should sincerely support other countries in their development, because “one will not be seen in a more favourable light after blowing out others’ lamp; nor will they go farther by blocking others’ paths.” Rather than fighting over a small pie, he advised, “we should share opportunities, create a future together and make the pie of humanity’s modernization bigger to ensure more people enjoy the outcomes of modernization in a fairer way.”
President Xi pledged that China will open new doors to help other nations in their modernization drive and development endeavours. “The CPC stands ready to work with political parties of all other countries to advance high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, accelerate the solid implementation of the Global Development Initiative, foster new drivers for global development and build a global community of development,” he said.
Seventh, the contributions of all civilizations and cultures must be respected, and their contributions to human progress throughout history must be recognized. This in turn will contribute to further promotion of all nations and civilizations. “A single flower does not make spring, while one hundred flowers in full blossom bring spring to the garden,” Xi said.
In summing up the importance of inter-civilizational dialogue and mutually beneficial cooperation, he said: “The CPC will continue to promote inter-civilization exchanges and mutual learning and advance the progress of human civilizations. Around the world, countries and regions have chosen different paths to modernization, which are rooted in their unique and long civilizations. All civilizations created by human society are splendid. They are where each country’s modernization drive draws its strength and where its unique feature comes from. They, transcending time and space, have jointly made ian mportant contribution 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.”
Finally, Xi said: “Here, I wish to propose the Global Civilization Initiative. We advocate respect for the diversity of civilizations. Countries need to uphold the principles of equality, mutual learning, dialogue and inclusiveness among civilizations, and let cultural exchanges transcend estrangement, mutual learning transcend clashes, and coexistence transcend feelings of superiority.”
It is of utmost importance that, at this time of deep security, environmental, economic, and financial crises, that a voice of reason is raised to pull back humanity from the edge of the apocalyptic precipice it finds itself stirring at. Such an initiative for a “dialog of civilizations” rather than a “clash of civilizations” reminds humankind and nations about the purpose of their existence and the meaning of taking the best of what was bestowed upon them by previous generations and civilizations, and what they can contribute now and leave behind for their future generations.
There is a pressing need for discussing on a global scale the true nature of humankind and its purpose in existence. The Global Civilization Initiative is a timely and perfect launching pad for such a dialogue.
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Hussein Askary is a Founding board member of the Belt and Road Institute in Sweden (BRIX). The BRIX (中国一带一路倡议瑞典执行小组) is a non-profit association that has been formed by some of the organizers, speakers, and participants in a seminar held in Stockholm on May 30th, 2018 on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its economic and strategic significance for Europe and Sweden. The seminar was organized jointly by the Schiller Institute, the China-Sweden Business Council and China Embassy at China Culture Center.