A single flower does not make spring, while one hundred flowers in full blossom bring spring to the garden.
In the last year, President Xi has issued three major global initiatives: the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative and, most recently, the Global Civilisation Initiative. The State Council Information Office (2023) describes the initiative in the following terms:
Elaborating on the new initiative at the CPC in dialogue with world political parties high-level meeting on Wednesday, Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, called for respecting the diversity of civilisations, advocating the common values of humanity, valuing the inheritance and innovation of civilisations, and strengthening international people-to-people exchanges and cooperation. The initiative is another major public product provided to the world by China after the Global Development Initiative and the Global Security Initiative, both put forward by Xi in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
The State Information Office references the ancient Silk Road that ‘embodied the spirit of cooperation, mutual learning and mutual benefit.’ The year 2023 marks the 10th anniversary of China’s proposal of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) when President Xi first introduced the BRI as a global public good designed to promote economic and cultural development and people-to-people exchanges. As the official statement makes clear, ‘The diversity of civilisations is in nature a source of vitality and momentum in human development.’
Xi’s Global Civilisation Initiative, also known as the Community of Common Destiny or the Belt and Road Initiative, aims to promote economic cooperation and connectivity among countries across Asia, Europe, Africa and beyond through infrastructure development, trade and investment in two main ‘roads’: the land-based ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ and the ‘Maritime Silk Road,’ which is a network of ports and shipping lanes connecting China’s coast to the Mediterranean Sea.
President Xi Jinping’s Global Civilisation Initiative (GCI) is a comprehensive strategy that aims to promote the development of a community and a shared future for mankind through the promotion of cultural exchange, dialogue and cooperation. This initiative, first introduced in 2014, has since gained traction both within China and around the world as a potential framework for addressing a wide range of global issues, including economic development, environmental sustainability and international security. This postscript provides a brief overview of the GCI and its key components, as well as exploring the potential implications of this initiative for China’s relations with the rest of the world.
The GCI, as outlined by Xi Jinping, is based on the concept of a ‘community of shared future for mankind,’ which emphasises the interconnectedness of nations and the need for greater cooperation in addressing common challenges. The GCI is founded on the principle of cultural exchange and mutual learning, which recognises the value of diversity and encourages dialogue between different civilisations. This approach is seen as an alternative to the traditional ‘clash of civilisations’ model, which posits that conflict between different cultural groups is inevitable.
The GCI comprises several key components, including the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF), the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA). These initiatives are intended to foster greater economic cooperation and development between China and its partners, as well as promote cultural exchange and dialogue.
The BRI, launched in 2013, is a major infrastructure and investment project that aims to connect China with over 60 countries across Asia, Europe and Africa through a network of railways, highways, ports and other infrastructure projects. The BRI has been hailed as a potential game-changer for global trade and economic development, although it has also been criticised for its potential environmental impact and concerns over debt sustainability.
The CASCF, first held in 2004, is a platform for dialogue and cooperation between China and Arab states on issues such as energy, trade and cultural exchange. The FOCAC, established in 2000, is a similar platform for China-Africa cooperation, focusing on issues such as infrastructure, agriculture and health. The CAFTA, established in 2010, is a free trade area between China and the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) aimed at promoting economic cooperation and development.
Key Features of Xi’s Global Civilisation Initiative
The Global Civilisation Initiative is characterised by several key features that distinguish it from traditional models of international relations. These features include:
- Mutual respect: The initiative emphasises the importance of mutual respect for different civilisations and cultural traditions. It rejects the notion of a single, universal civilisation and promotes the idea of a world where diverse civilisations can coexist in harmony.
- Cultural exchange: The initiative promotes cultural exchange and mutual learning between different civilisations. It seeks to promote a dialogue of cultures that can contribute to the enrichment of all participating civilisations.
- Common development: The initiative seeks to promote common development and shared prosperity among different countries and civilisations. It emphasises the importance of win-win cooperation and mutual benefit.
- Non-interference: The initiative rejects the use of force or interference in the internal affairs of other countries. It promotes the principle of sovereignty and non-interference in the domestic affairs of other nations.
- Multilateralism: The initiative emphasises the importance of multilateralism and the role of international organisations in promoting cooperation and coordination among different countries.
Xu Liuliu, Li Qian and Hu Yuwei indicate that ‘Xi proposed the Global Civilisation Initiative while delivering a keynote speech at the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Dialogue with World Political Parties High-level Meeting on March 15.’ It is a vision that combines universal values with Chinese wisdom, and, while there are no direct references to it, President Xi’s initiative recalls ‘The Dialogue among Civilisations’ proposed by the former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami as a direct counterpoint to Samuel P. Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations that argued that religious and cultural identity would be the source of conflict in the post-Coldwar era. Huntington’s thesis was a response to Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, a Hegel-inspired apocalyptic philosophy that left a deep imprint on the contemporary US foreign policy discourse that came to characterise the generation of Straussians, after Leo Strauss, perhaps, the Chicago philosopher of conservatism, who configured the reimagined neocons’ American Project and led to the first strike mentality resulting in the attack on Saddam Hussein for allegedly possessing weapons of ‘mass destruction.’ The unspoken element shared with Fukuyama and Huntington is Hegelian dialectics as the motor of history constituting the logic of development. The CCP is driven by a Hegelian account of history that admits a kind of historical determinism or inevitability.
The works by Strauss, Huntington and Fukuyama have left an indelible mark on American foreign policy thinking. Huntington’s ‘clash’ came to be defined in the Bush presidency through the conflicts with Islamic fundamentalism, primarily with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS and other Islamic groups working in the Sahel in North Africa. That era has passed well as an American priority signalled by the inept withdrawal from Afghanistan. The new era in American foreign policy has been defined by the ‘pivot to Asia,’ economic competition with the largest Asian economies and the security challenge of containing China in the US Indo-Pacific strategy.
Xi’s Global Civilisation Initiative bears no direct reference to the American foreign policy discourse, but it does show some sympathy for the principles of Mohammad Khatami’s ‘The Dialogue among Civilisations,’ which became the basis for the UN 2001 year devoted to the issue. In 携手同行现代化之路※ 习近平 (Hand-in-Hand on the Road to Modernisation), Xi Jinping begins with a comment about the challenges facing the development of human society:
In today’s world, multiple challenges intertwined and superimposed with crises, the recovery of the world economy is difficult, the development gap continues to widen, the ecological environment continues to deteriorate, and the ghost of the Cold War mentality as time goes on, the modernisation process of human society has once again come to a historical crossroads. Polarisation or shared prosperity? Material supremacy or the coordinated development of material and spirit? Exhausting water to fish or man and nature living in harmony born? Zero-sum game or win-win cooperation? Should we copy other countries’ models or develop independently based on our own national conditions? What do we need? What kind of modernisation? How can modernisation be achieved?
Xi emphasises the responsibilities that modernisation as an important force in the process of globalisation and has to answer. He adumbrates the following principles:
- We must adhere to the concept of putting the people first and highlight the people’s nature in the direction of modernisation.
- We must uphold the principle of independence and self-reliance and explore the diversity of modernisation paths.
- We must establish a sense of integrity and innovation to maintain the continuity of the modernisation process.
- We must carry forward the spirit of self-improvement and enhance the inclusiveness of modernisation achievements.
- We must maintain a strenuous attitude and ensure the firmness of modern leadership. Modernisation does not fall from the sky; rather, it should be done by carrying forward the historical initiative.
Xi refers to the Chinese dream of modernisation as the basis for ‘the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation’ through ‘Chinese-style modernisation’ that is characterised by ‘a huge population, common prosperity for all people, coordination of material civilisation and spiritual civilisation, and harmony between man and nature,’ harmonious coexistence and the path of peaceful development. He maintains the Chinese nation will always share its destiny with other nations and seek to develop further the modern industrial system in order to build an international global development community based on international fairness and justice and the promotion of world peace and stability. He argues for a non-hegemonic form of development:
Chinese-style modernisation does not follow colonial plunder; instead of taking the crooked path that a strong country must seek hegemony, it follows the right path of peaceful development in the world. We advocate bridging differences through dialogue, to resolve disputes, resolutely oppose all forms of hegemonism and power politics, and advocate the spirit of unity and win-win thinking to deal with complex intertwined security challenges, to create a security pattern of fairness and justice, joint contribution and shared benefits.
Chinese-style modernisation is a new form of human civilisation, and Xi proposes the Global Ming initiative where communication transcends barriers among civilisations, mutual learning among civilisations transcends clashes among civilisations, and tolerance among civilisations transcends superiority among civilisations. He suggests ‘We must jointly advocate’:
- the common values of all mankind. Peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy and freedom are the core values of all countries;
- the importance of civilisation inheritance and innovation, fully tap the historical value of the history and culture of each country;
- the strengthening of international people-to-people and cultural exchanges and cooperation, explore the establishment of a global dialogue and cooperation network among civilisations.
Gao Xiang, President and Secretary of the Party Leadership Group of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, summarises the thinking behind the Global Civilisation Initiative:
类社会现代化之问’，为促进不同文明包容共存、交流互鉴和推动人类社会现代化进程、繁荣世界 文明百花园注入了信心与力量。全球文明倡议源于中国式现代化的探索与实践， 并汲取各种文明的 经验与教训，蕴含着人类文明进步的历史规律和实践逻辑。全球文明倡议具有丰富的理论意涵和重 大的实践价值，彰显了拥有5000 多年历史文明古国的智慧和担当，是新时代中国为应对人类共同 挑战提供的又一重要科学解决方案。
The Initiative on Global Civilisation originates from the exploration and practice of Chinese modernisation and draws on the experience and lessons of various civilisations. It embodies the historical law and practical logic of human civilisation progress. The Global Civilisation Initiative has rich theoretical implications and great practical value. It demonstrates the wisdom and responsibility of an ancient civilisation with a history of more than 5,000 years. It is another important scientific solution that China has provided to meet the common challenges of mankind in the new era.
Gao Xiang advises his readers:
It reveals the historical law of the rise and fall of human civilisation.
Grasp the practical logic of the development and progress of human civilisation
Actively respond to the realistic challenges of modernisation of human society
Fully demonstrate the global significance of Chinese-style modernisation.
The Global Civilisation Initiative follows the trend of historical development, provides China’s answer to the question of the modernisation of human society, and provides ideological guidance and action guidelines for the development and progress of human civilisation. As more and more countries actively respond to and implement the Global Civilisation Initiative, human society will embark on a new journey of modernisation and build a more prosperous garden of world civilisations.
The GCI has significant implications for China’s role on the global stage. At its core, the GCI is about promoting cultural exchange and cooperation between nations and positioning China as a leader in this effort. This is in line with China’s broader strategy of promoting a more multipolar world order, in which power is more evenly distributed among nations and there is greater respect for diversity and cultural differences.
The GCI also has implications for China’s relations with the rest of the world. As China becomes more involved in global governance and takes on a larger role in international organisations, it will be increasingly important for China to find ways to promote cooperation and dialogue between different nations. The GCI provides a framework for achieving this goal by emphasising the importance of cultural exchange and mutual learning. It is underwritten by Chinese infrastructural economic development and the largest such project in the world in the form of the BRI.
One of the biggest challenges is the potential for cultural conflicts and misunderstandings between different nations. While the GCI emphasises the importance of dialogue and mutual learning, these goals will be achieved in practice only through the larger infrastructural projects related to the BRI and Chinese modernisation. In addition, there are Western perceptions about the potential for China to use the GCI as a way to promote its own values and interests at the expense of other nations.
There is no doubt that Xi Jinping’s Global Civilisation Initiative represents a significant development in China’s approach to foreign policy and diplomacy. The Initiative reflects China’s growing global influence and the country’s commitment to promoting a vision of a more just, equitable and harmonious world order. Through this initiative, China seeks to enhance its soft power, increase its global presence and contribute to global development and governance.
Drawing on China’s rich cultural heritage and history, emphasising the importance of cultural exchange and dialogue in promoting understanding and mutual respect among civilisations, it promotes a vision of a world order based on mutual respect, shared benefits and peaceful coexistence, which represents a significant departure from the traditional Western-centric model. As China continues to play an increasingly prominent role in global affairs, its approach to diplomacy and foreign policy will continue to evolve. The Global Civilisation Initiative is likely to be an important component of China’s foreign policy strategy for years to come as China seeks to promote its vision of a more just, equitable and harmonious world.
The Global Civilisation Initiative represents a significant shift in China’s approach to global governance and diplomacy, highlighting the country’s growing confidence and ambition on the global stage. It also presents new opportunities for China to engage with the world and contribute to global development and governance while promoting its unique cultural identity and values.
China’s unique approach to global governance and diplomacy is based on the principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, mutual respect and win-win cooperation. One of the key components of China’s approach to global governance is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims to connect China with Asia, Europe and Africa through infrastructure development, trade and investment. The BRI is seen as a way to promote economic growth and development in partner countries while also expanding its geopolitical influence.
China is also an active participant in global governance organisations, such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation and is currently seeking a greater role in these organisations along with advocating a more just and equitable distribution of world power and influence among member countries.
While China has faced criticism from some countries in the West over its handling of issues such as human rights, territorial disputes and trade practices, China has generally maintained a diplomatic approach in addressing these issues, seeking to avoid confrontation and instead promoting dialogue and cooperation. The Global Civilisational Initiative is a major step toward mandating and embedding these Chinese virtues in foreign policy that emphasises global economic development through trade and BRI investment, non-interference, harmony (a traditional Confucian value), win-win and the rebalancing of world politics away from a Western-centric model to a Chinese and Asian one. We have every reason to believe that this model based on Chinese modernisation will be critical for the Asia-Pacific and its emergence as a pole of world population, power, growth and diplomacy.