'The Belt and the Road' and the integration of civilizations

By Peng Bo
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, November 20, 2014
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Main routes of the ancient Silk Road. Red is land route and the blue is the sea/water route. [wikipedia.org]

The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road Initiatives, or the Belt and the Road Initiatives, are not simply about trade and economics, but also the interaction and integration of different civilizations. When Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed the notion of the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road in Indonesia in October 2013, he mentioned the word "civilization," the core of which is the integration of various civilizations.

The idea of "civilization" has rich connotations, including culture, politics and economics. These three dimensions can either promote each other or stand in the way of each other. Politics and economics are fairly less profound than culture. We can only grasp the reality only if we handle well the intricate relationship between culture, politics and economy. The smooth implementation of the Belt and the Road Initiatives also requires the mutual interaction and promotion of the three aspects.

Cultural integration and clashes are major issues in contemporary society. American political scientist Samuel Huntington raised the notion of the clash of civilizations in the 1990s, contending that it would determine the future world order, which has arguably been proved by international conflicts in the past twenty years or so. But international relations are not only manifested in clashes of civilizations, but also cooperation and harmony among different civilizations. The interchange and integration of civilizations is the fundamental drive for global development. The development of the Belt and the Road is the process of integrating different civilizations, and only from this perspective can we better understand the connotations of the strategy.

All the countries along the Belt and the Road need to develop their economies and thus share common interests. The development of economies in modern society is a win-win situation, thus the main challenge in building the Belt and the Road will not come from economics but politics. Win-win situations are rare in politics: the real scenario is often "lose-lose," or what is called the prisoner's dilemma. In order to resolve the dilemma, we need to approach it from the civilizational perspective. China is not only a sovereign state, but also one with its unique civilization. Huntington believes that civilization provides the highest sense of belonging for humanity, and that it covers the broadest dimension of cultural identification for humanity and differentiates humans from other species.

The clash of civilizations is broader than clashes in economy and politics. Confrontations and cooperation between different countries is often found in politics and economics, while confrontation and cooperation between different civilizations are often seen in the political and cultural dimension. Civilization does include economics, but goes way beyond it. Sometimes clashes of civilization disregard economic interest. Therefore, the Belt and the Road strategy relates not merely to trade and economic issues, though they are indeed an important component. Politics will impact economics, and civilization is the root of politics and the foundation of the economy. The greatest economic interest comes from the greatest political mutual trust, which springs from the thorough integration of civilizations. Thus, only by promoting the interaction and integration of civilizations can we weed out the deep-seated obstacles in developing the Belt and the Road.

In order to better develop the Belt and the Road, we need to regard the economy and trade as the motivation, politics as the lead, history as the base, culture as the platform, and build mutual trust and cooperate further. Only in this way can we integrate civilizations along the Belt and the Road, forge deep harmony between culture, politics, and economics, and eventually gain a better outcome.

Why is trade and economy the motivation? Economy is the basis for the development of society, and the benefits brought by economics and trade are palpable and can been seen immediately. Long-term economic cooperation and the trust built after rounds of negotiations will be the basis for building the Belt and the Road. The historical Silk Road, which the new Belt and Road are modeled after, was also built through economic reciprocity.

Why is politics the lead? Because as the superstructure, politics will impact and react to the economy. Compared to economics and culture, politics is a more proactive and more changeable force. Political negotiations often bring forth opportunities for social development and transition. The Bretton Woods Conference and the APEC conference are both examples.

Why is culture the platform? Culture is more enduring and profound than economics and politics. The economy often undergoes transformations and witnesses highs and lows. Politics is even more changeable. Western political philosophy believes that there are no permanent friends but only permanent interests between countries. Thus, only by shaping friendship and cooperation along the Belt and the Road on a cultural dimension will the friendship be ever-lasting and form the cornerstone of the stable development of economic and trade relations.

Why is history the base? Because history always exerts a sustained and profound impact on the current situation. When we tell the countries along the Belt and the Road that we will rebuild the Silk Road, the notion of the Silk Road evoke their historical memories, and convey to them the idea that it is our common cause rather than China's own strategy. The Belt and the Road maintains the common interest of countries and peoples along the road, rather than just the interest of China. It is therefore more likely to touch a chord in the hearts of the citizens involved.

Therefore in the cause of implementing the strategy of the Belt and the Road, we need to rouse the enthusiasm of the relevant countries, seek common ground while reserving differences on the cultural front, develop the economy together, and build political mutual trust and benefit. Only when we reach out through cultural inclusiveness, motivate through economic development and appeal through political cooperation can we integrate civilizations and achieve more effective results.

The writer is an associate researcher from the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation.

The article was written in Chinese and translated by Zhang Lulu.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

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