• Rise of China is now re­shap­ing global cul­ture

China Daily European Weekly - - Comment - Ro­mano Prodi The au­thor is a for­mer prime min­is­ter of Italy. The ar­ti­cle is of­fered ex­clu­sively to the China Daily-pow­ered think tank plat­form China Watch (www.chi­nawatch.cn).

We need to find the wis­dom to note dif­fer­ences and re­al­ize that di­ver­sity is an as­set, not a li­a­bil­ity

De­spite var­i­ous crises af­fect­ing large parts of the world, global eco­nomic growth stands at around 4 per­cent and is spread rel­a­tively evenly be­tween de­vel­op­ing and wealthy coun­tries. In some ways, this should be a re­as­sur­ing trend. But a defin­ing fea­ture of our time is the dis­con­nect be­tween eco­nomic dy­nam­ics and cul­tural iden­tity.

While rapid eco­nomic glob­al­iza­tion — which has brought un­prece­dented in­ter­con­nec­tiv­ity — has been tak­ing place for the past few decades, var­i­ous forms of na­tion­al­ism have emerged as a re­ac­tion to in­creas­ing eco­nomic dis­par­i­ties be­tween and within coun­tries and what is per­ceived by many as im­posed cul­tural ho­mog­e­niza­tion. There is a deep and grow­ing sense of iden­tity that is pen­e­trat­ing even in­side a coun­try, as is the case of the Cat­alo­nia re­gion of Spain.

So it is time to re­con­sider the im­por­tance of cul­tural iden­tity and how it af­fects the po­lit­i­cal econ­omy, geopol­i­tics and se­cu­rity.

Some pro­po­nents of glob­al­iza­tion make the mis­take of think­ing that iden­ti­ties do not ex­ist. This is not true. Even if they evolve and are com­plex, iden­ti­ties are real and con­sti­tu­tive of hu­man so­ci­eties.

A re­flec­tion on iden­ti­ties is ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary, be­cause it is the recog­ni­tion of the dif­fer­ences that char­ac­ter­ize our var­i­ous col­lec­tive con­struc­tions. Yet, at the same time, we ar­rive at the con­clu­sion that these dif­fer­ences do not nec­es­sar­ily clash. On the con­trary, dif­fer­ences should be seen as a pre-con­di­tion of har­mony.

Wise pol­i­tics is ac­tion that takes note of all the nu­ances be­tween har­mo­niza­tion and ho­mog­e­niza­tion, and pre­sup­poses an un­der­stand­ing of what makes the unique­ness of a civ­i­liza­tion and a ca­pac­ity to em­pathize with one an­other.

Wise pol­i­tics finds the re­sources to avoid both the fic­tion of “the end of his­tory” or of a “flat world” and the course that leads to a “clash of civ­i­liza­tions”.

Some glob­al­ists are un­com­fort­able with the re­al­iza­tion that China fol­lows its own path be­cause they choose to ig­nore the di­men­sions of his­tory, cul­ture and iden­tity. The same sen­ti­ment is grow­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, with com­plaints that the United States lives by dif­fer­ent val­ues. Chi­nese his­tory is not the same as Amer­i­can his­tory, and to be Chi­nese is not the same as be­ing Amer­i­can or Euro­pean. The ups and downs in re­la­tions be­tween the West and China are of­ten the con­se­quence of not rec­og­niz­ing the di­ver­sity of our roots and cul­tures.

In ad­di­tion to ef­forts to take iden­ti­ties into ac­count, we must also avoid what can be called the trap of re­cip­ro­cal su­pe­ri­or­ity: Be­ing dif­fer­ent does not mean be­ing su­pe­rior. Wise pol­i­tics is a quest to find the in­stru­ments of com­pro­mise with the prin­ci­ple of an open cul­tural di­a­logue as a pri­or­ity.

Such an ap­proach is im­por­tant for the sur­vival of Western democ­ra­cies and is also vi­tal for China, which has be­come deeply in­te­grated into the global sys­tem.

To re-eval­u­ate the sig­nif­i­cance of cul­ture does not mean to ig­nore the im­por­tance of the econ­omy. We can­not un­der­es­ti­mate the ex­is­tence of com­pe­ti­tion and even a clash of in­ter­ests, but we also can­not for­get that any trade dis­pute is struc­turally linked to a cul­tural en­vi­ron­ment and to the anx­i­ety gen­er­ated by an iden­tity cri­sis.

It must be our col­lec­tive goal to har­mo­nize our dif­fer­ent iden­ti­ties, which will al­low us to trade with un­avoid­able com­pe­ti­tion but without un­nec­es­sary con­flict. This is the best guar­an­tee for long-last­ing peace.

We have had the in­tel­li­gence to de­velop our economies and, by do­ing so, we have be­come in­creas­ingly in­ter­de­pen­dent. What we need now is to find the wis­dom to take note of our dif­fer­ences and, as a con­se­quence, deepen our le­git­i­mate in­ter­ests re­spect­ing our roots and our his­tory.

Dif­fer­ence must be con­sid­ered an as­set, not a li­a­bil­ity.

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