Why the Journey to the East

Table of Contents

Clash of civilizations?

S. Huntington argued that prior to the Cold War’s end, societies were separated by ideological differences, such as the conflict between communism and democracy and that now the most important divisions between societies are no longer ideological, political or economic, but cultural. Huntington considered that new conflict patterns will emerge at the boundaries of different cultures and cohesion patterns and that as a multicultural world was unavoidable as and a global empire (fortunately) impossible, the survival of the West (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 to clash with other powerful civilizations, ‘the greatest threat to world peace’. S. Huntington’s Wester lens led him to oversimplify, to exaggerate cultural unity and to undervalue the political and national security interests of nation-states, linking the views of many different countries to a collective civilizational perspective.

Asia is here to stay

As Kishore Mahbubani 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 to be based on a new post-crisis world order. Where deference to Western societies was the norm in the last two centuries, a new respect and admiration for Asian societies 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 great 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 specially China, rise above and match their Western counterparts: free market economics, science and technology, meritocracy, pragmatism, culture of peace, 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, 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. The historical relationship between Asia and Europe can be described 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 the WWII, most of them in the context of 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 common 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, mutual, 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. Richthofen, in formulating the idea of the Silk Road, 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 the trade of nations 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 cultural and economic life of the world community.

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 Western assumption of freedom as a «universal» value has deep historical and philosophical origins, so does Asian categorization of «ping an» as a «universal» value has deep roots in its long and rich historical and cultural background. Since both concepts are deeply rooted in each «civilization», practically embedded in our respective DNA, getting to know “the other”, accepting that it cannot be as we would like it to be, seems a good way to look for the elements that unite us and not those that separate us, to build bricks with which 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.

Within the framework of an emerging multipolar world, Europe and Asia are both regions that have an important role to play in shaping global politics. Because of the size and significance of their economies, as well as the scale of their trade, both the EU and its Asian partners have a strong stake in the international economic order, and accordingly also share a mutual interest in 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 politics, economy, society and culture of a continent that is all too unfamiliar to us and to where the main axis of 21st century geopolitics has shifted. We would like 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 that are shaping societies, politics and economies in Asia. Finally, we will be satisfied if we are able to portray Asia’s increasingly complex environment and imagine ways of building bridges between Europe and Asia in order 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 cannot be solved by only one “civilization”.
Daniel echeverria

Daniel Echeverría-Jadraque

If you want to know how our journey to the East continues, be sure to read the following post carefully… If you have any questions, comments, suggestions or contributions, please send us an email to info@danielecheverria.com. Hsuan Tsang, the Monkey King, the Pig, the Sand, the Dragon Horse and myself will be happy to hear from you!

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