Remarks by Mr. Miguel Ángel Moratinos,
Under-Secretary-General and High Representative
for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
at the Third Dialogue on Exchanges and Mutual Learning among Civilizations
Beijing, China, 3-4 July 2023
Your Excellency Mr. Han Zheng, Vice President of the People’s Republic of China,
Your Excellency Mr. Liu Jianchao, Minister, International Department, Central Committee, Communist Party of China,
I would like to start by applauding the President of China H.E. Mr. Xi Jinping for punting his political weight behind the concept of strengthening dialogue and mutual understanding among civilizations.
I warmly thank the Chinese Association for International Understanding for inviting me to address this timely event and providing the opportunity to visit China again.
The word “civilization” is synonymous with China and its rich cultural heritage and ancient civilizations. You, as Chinese, could be very proud to say that China is a civilization state.
History tells us of a civilization that engaged and interacted with other civilizations and enriched each other.
Hence the Chinese for civilization (Weng Ming) meaning culture and enlightenment is an accurate description of the true meaning of civilizations.
Let us recall the trip of the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci from Europe to China to meet with its Emperor Karragxi. He saw an Empire, the “Empire of the Center”, that was far more advanced than Europe and they agreed to start an East West dialogue to learn from each other.
Similarly, if we look back at the routes our ancestors took at the Ancient Silk Road, we will see the spirit of inclusiveness and openness. From the Nile valleys, the Tigris & Euphrates to the Ganges and Yangtze Rivers, we will see the story of encounters between diverse peoples, civilizations and religions. These ancient Silk Routes connected the ancient civilizations of Egyptionas, Babylonians, Indians and Chinese as well as Muslims, Christinas and Buddhists.
It is always useful to remember our history so as to build a better future. And the Ancient Silk Road is telling of a story of human progress as well as economic prosperity.
This year will mark the 10th anniversary of the new Belt & Road initiative which promotes people-to-people exchanges in addition to the economic components.
I was pleased to participate in the “Belt & Road” in 2019 and look forward to this gathering in October.
This brings me to the Global Civilization Initiative, which H.E. the President of China, Mr. Xi Jinping, launched earlier in March this year. The GCI is based on 4 pillars: respecting diversity of civilizations, advocating the common values of humanity, valuing the heritage and innovation of civilizations and strengthening people-to-people exchanges and cooperation.
I wish to commend President Xi Jinping for his initiative where I see clear synergies with the work of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.
Today’s global context is complex. Old conflicts remain unresolved and new ones are erupting every day, unhindered. Climate change, food security and economic volatility are exacerbating.
Hate speech, xenophobia and discrimination based on religious, ethnic or cultural identity are on the rise.
Among intellectuals there is a renewed debate about civilization. The concept of “civilization” is back on the international agenda. Nevertheless, let me share some thoughts about it.
We are quite often using concepts such as identity, culture, and civilizations, without differentiating the real sense and meaning. Identity is the primary concept. It is the first stage. It is our own awareness as individuals and members of our communities or societies. Culture is added to our own awareness as something complementary adding tradition, habits, creativity, art and aesthetics.
Finally, civilization is the last stage of our common past, present and future as individuals and as citizens of a state or nation. Thus, therefore, the Chinese etymology of civilization (When Ming) means: culture plus enlightenment.
Yes, civilization is the system where identities and culture live together and create a framework of rules and procedures that explain our past and reflect our way of living together in the present and finally project our ideas, principles and values for the future.
That is what we should discuss today, what kind of civilization should be defended and be accepted in order to shape our common future as one humanity.
In this sense, here comes the polemic proposal of Professor Huntington. Thirty years ago, the American scientist prophesied that the great divide between humanity and the predominant source of conflict will be cultural and/or religious.
He identified the Islamic civilization as the main political and cultural adversary of the West. Nine years later, his thesis found resonance after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The scene of the total collapse of the twin towers changed the perception of the Huntingtonian prophecy which was re-evaluated by the West believing that they had found their new enemy: Islam.
The Alliance of Civilizations was created in a way to refute the theory. We are convinced that religion, culture or civilizations are not the only root causes of conflicts. It must be stated bluntly: there is no clash of civilizations. There is a clash of ignorance and a clash of interests.
Quite often identities were abused and misused. Identities, in fact, could be forces for public good.
This is especially true as societies have become increasingly multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious.
That’s why it is imperative to build inclusive and peaceful societies.
A society that is strong in its respect for each and every individual regardless of their identity, religion, faith, color, ethnicity or gender.
A society that is just in its protection of all its citizens and its citizen rights, equally and without discrimination.
A society that is rich in its diversity.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
All this is possible if we all work together in opening new channels for dialogue. Dialogue nurtures trust, understanding and respect. Dialogue between peoples serves as a diplomatic tool that contributes to fulfilling peace.
The Global Civilization Initiative encourages dialogue among political parties within China and with parties outside China.
The Alliance of Civilizations provides a global space for dialogue among state and non-state actors.
In this context, I am here today to renew our commitment.
I believe China brings a tremendous instrument that will support our main objectives of fostering understanding and dialogue between different religions, different cultures, different civilizations and at the same time to create the environment for exchanging ideas, respecting each other, and working together.
I would like to conclude by quoting an ancient Chinese saying: “A long journey can be covered only by taking one step at a time”. In this spirit, UNAOC is willing to take this journey with you.
Let all of us be in what this old Chinese philosopher called the “Tianxia” that means “all of us above the same sky”.
Yes, let us continue this way together for “one shared humanity”.