Interfaith dialogue could be new road to peace
www.chinaview.cn 2007-06-21 09:15:35
BEIJING, June 21 -- If nations collide because of different values, globalization may be giving a new spin to the multiple values involved in international relations.
From the dim past to the present, international relations could be categorized as relations of war and peace - nations clashing over values.
This approach does not project a bright future for relations among states as it doesn't provide a paradigm for the peaceful co-existence of different value systems.
A way to avoid conflict has long been sought. A seemingly uncomplicated approach is for nations to share peace and prosperity through dialogue and tolerance.
The recipe of dialogue entails not imposing one's values or faith on others. It involves respecting different peoples' treasured values and beliefs. It is necessary to understand and appreciate, or at least tolerate, different cultures and religions.
The ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) Interfaith Dialogue, under the framework of the Asia-Europe Summit, is just such a platform. It brings nations together from two continents to address their diversity and commonality in faith and culture, with the hope of convergence for the sake of humanity.
For the first time, China is hosting the three-day ASEM Interfaith Dialogue in Nanjing which concludes today. This is China's contribution to the multiethnic conversation of the two continents. This is of particular relevance as Asia still has a long way to go to reconcile differences among nations and continents.
The ASEM Interfaith Dialogue helps build mutual understanding between Asians and Europeans in the fields of interfaith and inter-religious relations.
The two previous meetings, in Bali, Indonesia in 2005, and in Larnaca, Cyprus in 2006, addressed the relations of interfaith dialogue to peace, justice, compassion and tolerance. They called for more concrete action by religious leaders, academia, government and the media.
The dialogue approach actually has a lot to do with democracy. In a democracy, the majority makes decisions which affect the entire group. At the same time, democracies protect the right to individual beliefs without necessarily endorsing them.
Historically, Europe has been a place of feuds and strife. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 finally introduced the notion of non-aggression. Meanwhile, the Protestants left Britain for North America for freedom of religion.
Three centuries later, the two world wars erupted in Europe. It took the Cold War for Europeans to develop the concept of the European Security Council between two ideological and military blocs. The purpose was to talk and act for collective security.
The Asians might have more problems. First, in terms of recent history, all three major wars since World War II - on the Korean Peninsula, in Vietnam and Iraq - have occurred in Asia.
Second, while the US has aspired to balance security in the region, it has not always been constructive in its dealings with Asia. In fact, Washington has waged all three of the most recent major wars here, without first pursuing negotiations.
Third, there exists a number of religions in Asia - Buddhism, Hinduism, Islamism, Christianity, as well as various ideological concepts. It is daunting to reconcile all these factors to minimize conflicts. In Northeast Asia alone, numerous security and trust problems have existed over inter-Korea rivalry, cross-Straits tension, China-Japan discord, and the abduction issue between Pyongyang and Tokyo. All these tensions make it truly difficult to build a pan-Asia dialogue to advance mutual trust and understanding.
The existence of these problems proves the need for an interfaith dialogue, or confrontations will ensue.
In recent decades, some Asian states have developed regional dialogue groupings such as ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), ASEAN Regional Forum, Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation, Gulf Cooperation Council and Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific as well as the non-governmental Shangri-La Dialogue.
Most of these sub-regional mechanisms are not yet Asia-wide. But with the systems in place, Asian countries are now enjoying a greater chance for peace and prosperity, though their capacity for building peace and stability is still far behind that of Europe.
At the national level, with globalization, most of Asia is developing rapidly as investment and technology are more accessible. In the meantime, various social tensions are emerging over the unequal distribution of wealth and national economies' need to develop in more sustainable ways.
This entails domestic dialogue among various social strata and the development of a fair and legal system that protects the interests of people from all walks of life.
It is of the utmost importance to balance the interests of efficiency and fairness in various Asian countries. Europeans can share their experience in handling social cohesion and harmonious development.
Among nations, globalization has not only facilitated outsourcing and trade but it has also challenged state authority and governance. With advances in communication, nationalism could be more readily stirred up to meet the needs of narrowly defined national interests.
At the intercontinental level, Asia and Europe have many areas for dialogue. Europe has left its colonial legacy in Asia but is now the main collaborator in Asia's economic and social development.
Nanjing is well suited to be the host city for the current ASEM Interfaith Dialogue. As the costal capital of many dynasties, Nanjing has its own glamour of cultural cohesion for generations of Chinese. More tragic, the Nanking Massacre of 1937 is embedded in the Chinese national psyche affecting relations with Japan.
It is much desired that a genuine interfaith dialogue between China and Japan could put to rest the different perspectives on that period. The two continents have much in common in seeking a fair world political structure but differ to a certain extent in their understanding of human and civil rights.
The Nanjing round of the ASEM Interfaith Dialogue brings their communication to a higher level, strengthening peace and civilization across the Asian-European landmass.
The author is executive dean, Institute of International Studies, and director, Center for American Studies, Fudan University.
(Source: China Daily)
Editor: Song Shutao