By Wang Fengjuan
The present recovery of Asia at large has caused great changes in the world landscape. Asia accounts for about 60 percent of the world’s population and approximately 30 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP). Asia has contributed more than 50 percent to world economic growth for years and become perhaps the most important engine of world economic growth. Clearly, Asia still has great potential for development.
During the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations (CDAC) in Beijing in May, attendees from various fields and different countries brought their perspectives and presented solutions for building a more prosperous and harmonious Asia.
Li Daokui: The Uniqueness of Asian Solutions
How can we build a road to prosperity in Asia that ensures that all countries on the continent jointly share achievements of development? What make the Asian solutions unique from the others?
First, Asian solutions must be based on Asia’s own practices. Not only has Asia gained successful experiences but also hard-learned lessons. How do state governance and economic development practices in Asia differ from those in Europe and other continents? The fundamental difference is most likely the relationship between the government and the market. In Asia, countries with good governance and sound economic development tend to share the common ground of government and market working together. The government is not against the market—the government helps the market develop.
For example, what are the successful experiences in Singapore? When the market fluctuates, the government helps it stabilize. The financial assets controlled by the Singapore government are equivalent to twice the total GDP of Singapore. For years, the Singapore government has used its financial assets to hedge against market volatility from around the world. When the world economy is weak, the Singapore government will use its financial assets to cut taxes, or even buy assets that are undervalued in the market.
Another example is China. Many regions suffered an economic decline in the third quarter of 2018. A lot of local governments responded well to the situation. How? Provinces and cities all established a local government-controlled fund to alleviate difficulties. During the slump, many public companies used their shares as collateral to borrow money from banks. With these funds, companies could repay the money they borrowed from banks and redeem the shares. Shenzhen did precisely this, and the move largely boosted confidence in the market.
Then, what are the successful experiences of Asia? Many involve government enabled market economy, which has been the wisdom of Asia. We should communicate with counterparts from other continents through various forums and in multiple ways.
We must also perform our own work well. A government enabled market economy must do a few things: First, government workers must have strong abilities. The education level of government employees must exceed that of entrepreneurs in the country and stay relatively higher than the education levels of workers in other occupations throughout society. Second, the salaries and incentives of government workers must be competitive in the market and keep pace with economic development. In many economic development zones across China, staff salaries are directly linked to the local government’s performance in attracting investment.
This practice ensures government workers are motivated and able to perform their duties. The government needs to provide competitive salaries and incentives to their workers. I would like to make a special appeal to scholars from all countries in Asia to exchange ideas, learn from each other and work together to provide Asian solutions to the world to benefit the people.
General Surasit Thanadtang: The Wisdom of the East
During the CDAC, I saw attendees from various countries express their love and pursuit of peace. They had high hopes that the CDAC would not only introduce Chinese civilization to the outside world, but also help the world understand and appreciate the wisdom of the East.
How can we formulate feasible solutions to benefit the people? To this end, we must achieve three goals: efficiency, legitimacy, and reasons to work.
The CDAC has filled me with hope, and I am sure it will promote world peace. But achieving world peace means avoiding political conflicts and clashes between great powers. To this end we should pool wisdom and accelerate the peaceful development throughout the world through intelligence exchange. We need to follow the rules, protect peace and follow traditional moral values to realize harmony in diversity, as was illustrated by revered ancient Chinese philosopher and educator Confucius.
We have a similar saying in Thailand, which translates as “diverse beauty.” Mankind is facing harsh realities, so we need to think about how people can co-exist peacefully and how different cultures can live in harmonious coexistence. This is not only a challenge but also a mission we must accept.
We must first respect each other to achieve this goal. Oriental civilization has a long history, which has exerted profound influence on our way of thinking and behavior. For example, Confucius once said: “Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire,” which remains the traditional wisdom of the East. Only through such traditional wisdom can we create common happiness.
Another old Chinese saying goes, “A warlike state, however big it may be, is doomed.” I am also deeply convinced that such wisdom will provide crucial help in achieving world peace and peaceful coexistence.
Wang Quancheng: New Model for a Multiracial and Harmonious Society
Singapore’s long-lasting peace and stability has won global praise. In recent years, in addition to efforts on narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor and assisting vulnerable groups and immigrants, the Singapore government has also placed issues of national concern such as people’s livelihood and social development high on its agenda as it builds a harmonious society. Singaporean satisfaction with the country’s “national security” evidences that the government’s efforts in this regard have been widely recognized and appreciated.
When delivering an important speech at UNESCO headquarters in Paris in 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that as long as the idea of peace can strike deep roots and the sail of peace can be hoisted in the hearts and minds of people all over the world, a strong defense will be constructed to prevent and stop war. A harmonious and inclusive society present in Singapore serves as validation of the Singapore government’s active efforts in this regard over the years and the positive response of its people.
Singapore is a multiracial nation and has actively absorbed a large number of immigrants over the years. To enable all new immigrants to successfully integrate into the Singapore society and enjoy a harmonious living environment, the Singapore government established a National Integration Council (NIC) in 2009 aiming to help new immigrants quickly adapt to new communities, schools and jobs, get along with Singaporeans, cultivate a sense of belonging to Singapore, and increase the happiness of new immigrants.
The Singapore Hua Yuan Association was formally established in 2001 with the aim of serving and nurturing the next generation of immigrants. Over the past 18 years, Hua Yuan Association has actively assisted new immigrants from China to better integrate into the multiracial Singapore society and assisted our members by introducing them to local associations featuring different races and cultures to conduct friendly exchange and establish sound rapport. We have often organized activities and actively participated in activities organized by the NIC as well as facilitating the rapid and healthy integration of new immigrants into the Singapore society.
As a civil society, Hua Yuan Association is committed to cooperating with governmental policies and relevant government agencies as well as with other relevant associations and civil organizations to establish regular cooperative mechanisms. Through trilateral or multilateral collaboration, we jointly contribute to the sound development of the Singapore society and make positive contributions to friendly relations between Singapore and China as well as fostering people-to-people exchange and friendly cooperation between the two countries.
Only a stable and harmonious society can sustain economic development. Public well-being and the happy life index will thus continue to improve, and society will continue to prosper and progress. We expect Asian countries to provide targeted solutions for their multi-tiered societies to help people of different social classes enjoy equal rights to development.
Dr. Oh Ei Sun: Cultural Exchange Promotes Friendship Among the Asian People
On May 15, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared that “we should have greater confidence in our civilizations” in his keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the CDAC. This sentence impressed me. With historical context in mind, our civilizations should have confidence. Every civilization is an inseparable piece of human civilization, so Asia’s various cultures should have their own confidence, which should be conveyed through their people. We should improve friendship and exchange between peoples of different countries, and on that basis build a community of interests.
The pursuit of a better life remains a common aspiration. What is civilization? Civilization is the accumulated achievements in the process of people moving from the wilderness to settlement and progress and development, all of which can be exchanged and drawn from along the way.
I have two suggestions. The first is about tourism, which was also mentioned by President Xi Jinping. I think too many Asians travel to countries outside Asia while numerous great destinations on their own continent are neglected—I do the same thing myself. There are a lot of things that we can do to improve this situation. For example, we can build convenient railway and highway networks between different countries in Asia. At the same time, we can launch direct flights between Asia’s major cities. My hometown is Sabah, Malaysia, which is now connected to a dozen major cities in China through direct flights. So now tourists visiting Sabah are mostly Chinese. Tourists from coastal cities can reach Sabah by cruise ships departing Xiamen in China’s Fujian Province.
Development of tourism has been uneven. When traveling, people should develop more profound feelings about local culture and gain a better understanding of local customs.
The second suggestion is about education. People in many English-speaking countries learn German or French, and the resources to do so have been plentiful for centuries. But in Malaysia, it is still very difficult for us to learn the Thai language. There is almost a complete lack of Thai language majors in Malaysian universities. I think people from different Asian countries should learn more about each other’s languages. Universities in Asian countries can organize winter camps or summer camps to facilitate exchange between schools on foreign languages.
I think it is very important to learn each other’s languages. Many Chinese students come to Malaysia, and Malaysian students in Beijing are always on my mind. I think they can become envoys for cultural exchange to improve this relationship in the years to come. Xiamen University is quite famous in Malaysia and has even established a branch school in the country. I hope more well-known universities in Asian countries come to Malaysia to conduct exchange, which will facilitate reciprocal learning.
Thirdly, I have a radical suggestion. I think UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee should prioritize heritage protection requests jointly submitted by multiple countries. For example, cocoa was proposed by Malaysia and Singapore and cosponsored by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Hopefully, the proposal makes the cut.