A Pakistan scholar on embracing unity despite diversity
By Zoon Ahmed Khan  ·  2021-08-09  ·   Source: NO.32 AUGUST 12, 2021
Zoon Ahmed Khan (right) has tea at a teahouse in Wenchuan County, Sichuan Province, on June 6 (COURTESY PHOTO)

I came to China six years ago to try to understand the foreign policy perspectives of China, and the epochal shifts taking place in the global community. Asia's rise is a reality, and the shifts the world is experiencing in a post-colonialist and post-imperialist age require a re-evaluation of definitions and perceptions.

Developing countries are now emerging and pushing global development forward. Amidst all of this, China's increased significance and enhanced role in the global community caught my attention as an international relations scholar in Pakistan.

My years in China since 2014 have been gratifying, for I have seen the country's development pace not only taking professionals like myself forward, but also resulting in a more equitable society. The scale, scope and speed of China's development are unprecedented in terms of numbers such as double-digit economic growth, the trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, and 800 million people moving out of extreme poverty.

When we think about China, we often limit our perception to a grand well-oiled machine, rather than 1.4 billion people working toward a common goal. This perspective is what needs to be broadened.

As someone dedicated to understanding new ways for developing countries to move forward and for young people to move away from zero-sum mentalities toward a broader and more inclusive perspective in understanding national interests, my tours in China have been transformative.

Visiting the terracotta warriors in Xi'an and learning the history of the ancient Silk Road, were more than just getting to know the history of China. Somehow it brought us closer together, regardless of where we were from.

We realized our histories are not so different, but in fact they intertwine; and that humanity has prospered most when people set common goals—unity despite diversity is the secret ingredient. Somehow the idea of a shared future came to life.

I also realized that the attempt to comprehend millennia of history is humbling because perceived from the spectrum of time, we are no more than tiny specks. Mistakes have been made by all, and human experience and development is a constant process of discovery and improvement, forgiving and moving forward. Nothing is absolute, and success is usually the result of constant reflection and progress—and betterment is an aspiration and an ideal to constantly work toward. Today we can be better than yesterday, and that journey never stops.

After six years in Beijing, I have discovered the dynamics of China's development, not only its historical experience but also its pursuit for the constant improvement of its 1.4 billion people. In particular, China's poverty alleviation efforts represent stories that need to be heard and told for other developing countries to understand and learn from and for developed countries as well. Concepts like the Shanghai Spirit and the Belt and Road as well as the notion of a community with shared aspirations and a shared future shed light on the way forward. To nurture these ideas and to take proactive steps toward making them tangible requires first of all shared experiences.

Synergy is the organic linkage that binds us together regardless of race and religion. Addressing issues such as poverty, hunger, women empowerment, literacy, global warming, and other global challenges requires our undivided and unanimous attention. These cannot be addressed when we are divided. Greater synergy is not just the best, but also the only viable way forward.

The author is a research fellow at the Belt and Road Institute in Tsinghua University

(Print Edition Title: Synergy for a Shared Future)

Copyedited by Ryan Perkins

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