The Journey to the East
Why the “The Journey to the East” Travel Notes?
Clash of civilizations?
Samuel Huntington argued that before the Cold War’s end, ideological differences separated societies, such as the conflict between communism and democracy and that now the essential divisions between communities are no longer ideological, political, or economic, but cultural. Huntington considered that new conflict patterns would emerge at the boundaries of different cultures and cohesion patterns. As a multi-cultural world was unavoidable and a global empire (fortunately) impossible, the West’s survival (as opposed to the Rest) would require a renewed identity.
Unless the West adapts to the new situation, it would be doomed to decline in power and influence or clash with other powerful civilizations, ‘the greatest threat to world peace’. S. Huntington’s Wester lens led him to oversimplify, exaggerate cultural unity, and undervalue the political and national security interests of nation-states, linking many different countries’ views to a collective civilizational perspective.
Asia is here to stay
As Kishore Mahbubani has stated, history has turned a corner. The age of Western supremacy is coming to an end. Asia’s re-emergence in world affairs and the global economy, underway even before covid-19, is based on new post-crisis world order. Deference to Western societies was the norm in the last two centuries. New respect and admiration for Asian cultures will replace it.
Mahbubani reminds us that for over 1800 of the past 2000 years, both China and India were consistently the two largest economies in the world. As he states, the last 200 years were a significant historical anomaly, and it is only natural that China and India will return to occupy their place, as every anomaly reaches its inevitable end. Seven factors have shaped Asia’s remarkable growth and had made Asian countries, very especially China, rise above and match their Western counterparts: free-market economics, science and technology, meritocracy, pragmatism, a culture of peace, the rule of law, and education.
There are better ways to deal with Asia or China than mere confrontation, and one of them is for the West to give up the illusion that it can change Asia and start trying to understand it. The Asian century is upon us, with the relentless rise of China, India – not to mention Japan, Singapore, or South Korea – and, to a lesser but considerable extent, Indonesia, Vietnam, or Malaysia.
Better to build bridges than to cause clashes:
As Bob Dylan sang, «the times they are a-changin'», and we had better «not criticize what (we) cannot understand». Asia’s increasingly complex environment and the growing opportunities for building bridges between Europe and Asia suggest the end of Huntington’s «clash of civilizations». The transition to an emphasis on mutual understanding and collaboration in a multilateral world is long overdue.
We can see the historical relationship between Asia and Europe as somewhat ambivalent: On one side, the two continents have had a historical relationship since Marco Polo «discovered» Asia and some Asian countries have had a long-standing dialogue with Europe. On the other side, some Asian countries have been European colonies at least until the end of World War II. These features of the relationship between the two continents have changed substantially after WWII, most of them in the ebb of European influence in Asia through the independence of Asian countries from their European empires and Asia’s growing disaffection with Europe.
It is time to look forward, to bring the peoples of Asia and Europe together to address shared global challenges, fostering mutual understanding and collaboration between the Asian and European nations through ideas exchange and opportunities to build a world in which Asians and Europeans shape a common, joint, respectful, just and sustainable future.
The Silk Road as a metaphor for Europe-Asia relations
The Silk Road has spread since the concept of «Seidenstrassen» or «Silk Roads» was coined by German geologist Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen in 1877. Ever since the «Silk Road» has been used as a metaphor for cultural interchange between Europe and Asia. Though largely trade-based, the Silk Road was a vehicle for all sorts of creative and cultural exchanges between widely diverse peoples and cultures.
When he formulated the idea of the Silk Road, Richthofen saw it as a source of cultural creativity in its own right. Thus, countries from Asia to Europe could claim their own place in a cross-national, multi-cultural stream of goods and new ideas represented by this historic road. Connecting with the peoples and cultures around them and participating in nations’ trade is better than withdrawing from that flow. In reclaiming the Silk Road legacy, Asia and Europe may once again be able to play an essential role in the world community’s cultural and economic life.
Can we make European and Asian values such as «freedom» and “PingAn (平安)”compatible?
If, as S. Huntington argued, most of the difficulties in building bridges of trust stem from cultural differences, we should start with the most difficult but most important, with the values that cross any cultural manifestation and that in the case of Europe and Asia, appear more distant: Western freedom and Asian “Ping An” (平安).
As Keqian Xu explains, «freedom/democracy» is less central to Asians like Ping An (平安) that includes «peace and tranquility of the individual’s mind and body, security of people’s life, harmony and concord and prosperity of family, society, country,…». If the Western assumption of freedom as a «universal» value has deep historical and philosophical origins, so does the Asian categorization of «ping an» as a «universal» value has deep roots in its long and rich historical and cultural background.
Both concepts are deeply rooted in each «civilization», practically embedded in our respective DNA. Therefore, getting to know «the other,» accepting that it cannot be as we would like it to be, seems an excellent way to look for the elements that unite us and not those that separate us. From there, we can build bricks to build a bridge based on pillars such as recognition, respect, and mutual understanding.
Why these travel notes «Journey to the East»? Looking for cultural acceptance interest all of us.
All of us are interested in looking for cultural acceptance. Within the framework of an emerging multipolar world, Europe and Asia are both regions that play an essential role in shaping global politics. Due to the size and significance of their economies and trade scale, both have a substantial stake in the international economic order. They also share a mutual interest in geopolitical and economic stability and sustainable and people-centered growth.
In the «Journey to the West» travel notes, we would like to offer information, analysis, and opinion on the history, politics, economy, society, and culture of a continent that is all too unfamiliar to us and where the central axis of the 21st-century geopolitics has shifted. We want to examine the nature, evolution, and challenges of diplomacy, economics, politics, culture, and society in Asia and seek to understand the underlying history, culture, and other processes shaping societies, politics, and economies in Asia.
Finally, we will be satisfied if we can portray Asia’s increasingly complex environment and imagine ways of building bridges between Europe and Asia to avoid Huntington’s «greatest threat to world peace» and transition to an approach of mutual understanding and collaboration in a multilateral world whose human, social and economic problems are becoming increasingly complex and that cannot be solved by only one “civilization”.