Dialogue matters
  ·  2024-01-25  ·   Source: NO.4 JANUARY 25, 2024
Enrico Letta, former Italian Prime Minister and President of the Jacques Delors Institute

Clashes of civilizations often stem from ignorance, and to prevent them from happening, the first step should be to eliminate ignorance and break stereotypes about each other to foster mutual understanding, said Enrico Letta, former Italian Prime Minister and President of the Jacques Delors Institute, a think tank on European affairs based in Paris, Brussels and Berlin, at the second edition of Oriental Civilization Summit Dialogue. The event, cohosted by the Mencius Foundation and Qufu Confucian Academy in the city of Shenzhen in Guangdong Province on January 13, gathered professionals from China and abroad to discuss the contemporary relevance of the ideas of the ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius (372-289 B.C.) and how to strengthen exchange between civilizations. Mencius is known as the Second Sage of Confucianism, second only to Confucius himself. Edited excerpts of Letta's remarks follow: 

Nature has given us a mouth and two ears to tell us that listening is more important than speaking. In today's world, we need to listen to each other first, building bridges and breaking down barriers to increase mutual trust and cooperation.

Short-termism, impatience and a lack of passion are the great enemies of today. The fact that we are used to having everything immediately is the opposite of wisdom. In a world where people from different cultures and with different languages are all trying to connect, we need patience and time to create mutual understanding.

We are living in a crisis of multilateralism, a world of confrontation instead of coordination. It is absolutely necessary to try to cooperate, to try to have more exchange. One of the most famous books in the field of international relations is probably The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (1996) by Samuel P. Huntington.

In reality, clashes of civilizations are something we must fight against. They often stem from ignorance, and to prevent them from happening, the first step should be to eliminate ignorance and break stereotypes about each other to foster mutual understanding.

Lack of mutual knowledge is the true beginning of every conflict, but to have mutual knowledge, we must first learn about the heritage of different civilizations.

For example, a key concept of Mencius' philosophy was the idea of ren, which means "benevolence" and advocates order, with love starting from oneself, the family and the workplace, and then extending to society at large. This is an excellent cultural heritage of China as well as a symbol of Asian civilizations, and European people stand to learn a lot from it.

In fact, traditional European wisdom, such as that of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) and the Italian Renaissance thinker Agostino Nifo (c. 1473-1538), bears similarities to Confucianism.

Cultures have their own strengths and weaknesses. Each presents different solutions for humanity to deal with existential crises that may arise. Learning from one another through dialogue is the best way for humanity to solve problems.

Chinese President Xi Jinping last year proposed the Global Civilizations Initiative, meant to promote humanity's shared values, which is a good goal. What matters now, is how it will be developed. We want to preserve the diversity of our civilizations and achieve such goals through cooperation and dialogue. And we are ready to participate.

I also see China's role as fundamental in boosting multilateralism. Multilateralism has suffered in recent years because of conflicts, some of which arose from a lack of mutual understanding.

China, Italy and Europe as a whole can all play their part in restoring the centrality of multilateralism. First and foremost is the most important challenge for the future of humanity—climate change.

At the 2015 UN conference on climate change in Paris, China played a leading role in preventing the failure of the conference and reviving joint efforts to tackle this thorny issue facing humanity.

But now, nine years later, we know very well that the challenges of climate change are much greater than originally anticipated and only concrete cooperation between China, Italy and the rest of the world can bring a brighter future for younger generations.

I believe that China can make a positive, fundamental contribution to global growth. What we need is stability at the international level. That's why China's role can be significant. It can bring the most peaceful communication among nations, and it can practice multilateralism in areas such as trade and investment.

Without this input, overcoming this profound crisis will be extremely complicated. 

(Ma Miaomiao reporting from Shenzhen, Guangdong Province)

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

Comments to mamm@cicgamericas.com

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