“To be, or not to be, that is the question.” This renowned question from Hamlet is what the world faces today. Is the world going to become truly civilized, or not?
“Civilized” does not mean how technologically advanced we are. Technology is important but it is just a tool. If we are not civilized, technology can ruin our future.
To me, “civilized” means that humans have learned to live harmoniously with one another. Civilized people have learned mutual respect and to give reverence to life: to be “considerate, congruent, and contemplative,” as I had pleaded in an old poem:
“Insight is Wise Living:
Considerate, congruent, and contemplative:
Keeping an eye on the big picture …”
To be considerate is putting oneself in the shoes of others. That way we avoid unnecessary and painful human conflicts.
To be congruent is doing what we preach. That way we earn the trust of others so we are more likely to find common ground and inner peace.
To be contemplative is learning to appreciate what is truly important and what is not.
Early this year, President Xi Jinping proposed the Global Civilization Initiative. What he proposes is really important, because if humans are civilized, the Middle East would find a road map to peace; Palestine and Israel would respect each other under the two-state solution. The Russia-Ukraine conflict would end, with Russia respecting the sovereignty of Ukraine, and Kyiv respecting the rights of Russians living in eastern Ukraine, particularly Donbas, which had suffered much bleeding and human rights abuses since 2014. NATO would put itself in the shoes of Russia and would not advance eastward, just as it had promised.
Some commentators representing the West have contested whether this promise was actually made, saying that there is no written commitment to that effect. But even though there may not be a written commitment to that effect, the commitment is indicated in the utterances of key players during the negotiation for German unification. Moreover, noted international relations scholar John Mearsheimer pointed out (in an interview published in The New Yorker): “When you’re a country like Ukraine and you live next door to a great power like Russia, you have to pay careful attention to what the Russians think, because if you take a stick and you poke them in the eye, they’re going to retaliate. … There’s no country in the Western Hemisphere that we will allow to invite a distant, great power to bring military forces into that country.” Russia has voiced its legitimate concerns over national security multiple times, but has been ignored.
China has all along maintained that it respects the territorial integrity of all countries, but at the same time it urges respect for the legitimate national security concerns of all countries. China is a good example of a country respecting the legitimate rights of ethnic minorities including freedom of religion
Russia’s concerns are legitimate because the West would not allow a distant major power to bring military forces into its neighboring country. Moreover, when — after the April 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest and NATO issued a statement saying Ukraine and Georgia would become part of NATO — “The Russians made it unequivocally clear … that they viewed this as an existential threat. … (This is because) it includes EU expansion as well, and … turning Ukraine into a pro-American liberal democracy.”
If America would put itself in Russia’s shoes, it would not have engineered regime change in Ukraine and would have discouraged NATO eastern expansion. If Kyiv would put itself in the shoes of the Russians living in Ukraine, it would not have “legitimize(d) radical Russophobe organisations by co-opting its (sic) activists into power structures, including those of law-enforcement. Thus, the position of the chief of Kiev regional police was filled by a deputy commander of the ‘Azov’ battalion, known for their usage of Nazi symbols.” (From an article by Mikhail Pogrebinskiy, director of the Kiev Center of Political Research and Conflict Studies, included in Ukraine and Russia: People, Politics, Propaganda and Perspectives.)
If we all were willing to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, mean what we say, and act what we mean, many of the world’s problems would have been laid to rest. There would have been peace in the world, the Middle East and Ukraine included, and the world would gradually reduce its arsenals of nuclear weapons.
China has successfully mediated the diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which used to be archenemies fighting each other. It is hoped that China’s diplomacy can help quell the fighting in Yemen, and eventually Ukraine. China has all along maintained that it respects the territorial integrity of all countries, but at the same time it urges respect for the legitimate national security concerns of all countries. China is a good example of a country respecting the legitimate rights of ethnic minorities including freedom of religion. The Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region is a shining example. Today, Hans and Uygurs live in harmony with each other, and Islam is as alive in China as it is in any Muslim country. It’s noteworthy that Islam in China is now rid of religious extremism.
It is my personal belief that a “one country, two systems”-like model could be a partial solution to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, under which the legitimate rights of ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine are protected while Ukraine’s sovereignty as a country that is not subordinate to any superpower will be respected.
The author is the director of the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.