Decoding China: A single flower does not make spring
Updated 16:58, 27-Sep-2023
Decision Makers

Editor's Note: Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era is China-centered, internationally applicable; it caters to the present and is geared towards the future. In CGTN's Decoding China series, domestic and international high-profile officials and experts from various fields share their experience and talk about Chinese governance and its global implication. In this episode, director of UNESCO Beijing Office Shahbaz Khan gives his thoughts on the importance of mutual understanding between cultures.

CGTN: Chinese President Xi Jinping once said that the Chinese nation will not be able to rejuvenate without a very strong, cultural confidence and a rich and prosperous culture. What are the fundamental, broader, and deeper aspects of cultural confidence of a country in your opinion? And what shall China do to strengthen its cultural confidence?

Shahbaz Khan: What President Xi has said is really very relevant to today's time, not only in China, but in the world. To build our confidence in ourselves and in our economies and in the way we live, we need to have a very deep understanding of human journey of our evolution.

Unless we develop a deep understanding of who we are, where we have come from and where we need to go, we will not be able to have the confidence. Every Chinese needs to understand the history of this great nation, and for the other nations too, every one of us needs to understand our journey and our evolution. That's why, in my opinion, our confidence as individuals, as a family, as a city, as a country or as a nation builds up once we have a deeper understanding of our journey over time. And that constitutes our culture.

CGTN: How do you see China's contribution into global development in the fields of education, science and culture?

Shahbaz Khan: China has been a wonderful partner with very strong support from the Chinese government in all areas of UNESCO. I give you the example of the world heritage program. We have two very important international gatherings of what we call the meeting of the World Heritage. The last one was in Fuzhou in Fujian Province.

We are going to have the fifth World Conference on Biosphere Reserves in China in 2025. This would be the most important meeting which will decide on next 10 years plan.

In education, China is a very strong supporter of education efforts of UNESCO. There is a Great Wall scholarship/fellowship supported by the Chinese government, which brings many students from developing countries to China.

I'm very happy that our First Lady of China (Peng Liyuan) is a very strong supporter. She's the special ambassador for girl's education in the world and in China (UNESCO Special Envoy for the Advancement of Girls' and Women's Education).

Also, there is a strong support for information and communications technologies (ICT) in education. We have a special center for ICT and education in Shenzhen, which is helping African countries as well as Asian countries. For example, recently they have helped put smart classrooms in Mongolia with the help of Chinese funding.

And also the private sector like Huawei, Tencent, they are also supporting UNESCO's work in many parts of the world.

In science and technology, which is a very important area, where China has advanced so much and there is so much development here. We have Chinese Academy of Sciences working very closely with UNESCO, (and) we have a number of UNESCO centers there. For example, in Langfang, we have a very amazing center related to geochemistry and looking into the Earth. It's also helping other nations for them to be able to find rare metals for example.

There are so many examples which I can give. The government of China is working closely with UNESCO. It will provide new opportunities for developing countries to help them achieve next level of development by promoting better science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

CGTN: Western countries, at times, promote some ideas which they perceive to be as of universal values. Whereas we see that China has a different approach, it talks about exchanges and mutual learning about civilizations and cultures. It also facilitates cultural exchanges between China and other countries. As the director of UNESCO's Beijing office, do you have any observance or some anecdotal reference that you have observed in your experience working in China?

Shahbaz Khan: One of the examples is that, recently, I visited Hangzhou (which is) a very beautiful city, and really amazing. There is a Grand Canal, which starts from there, the wonderful history of Grand Canal, which connects whole China, all the way through to Beijing. Also, there's a very important ancient ruins there – Liangzhu – between four and five thousand years old.

As I have been going to Hangzhou for quite some period of time, I started thinking about the Indus Valley Civilization, also very beautiful civilization on the Indus River. There is a very important world heritage site there. That was also four to five thousand years old, very beautiful civilization.

Both civilizations are about water, both civilizations are about urban amenities, like sanitation, four-five thousand years ago. Both civilizations are about learning and about understanding. So that's very important for the scholars to exchange between. But if I take some other example for you, we have a number of forums which are initiated by the Chinese government. One of them is in Guizhou Province, the Eco Forum Global Guiyang (which is) a very important forum to share ideas about eco civilization.

Within the UNESCO programs, like in Sichuan Province, we have Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries. As you know, the panda is an endangered species. It's a success story for China how the population (of pandas) has increased over the period of time.

But if you think now of the experiences from China, we think about Bangladesh and the Sundarbans – the Bengal tiger, such an iconic species. We need to share our knowledge and experience that how we have been successful in China, in Sichuan Province, in conserving biodiversity, our culture, (and) our world heritage, and what Bangladesh has been doing in the Sundarbans, but also thinking now about these civilizations and our evolution and how our cultures have traveled over time. 

I also now think about Latin America. I've been to Peru for some of the works in recent past and there is the Inca civilization and Machu Picchu.

So you start thinking about these civilizations and about the mutual learning and understanding, and the exchange of people. As President Xi has said that spring cannot come with a single flower, you need to have hundreds of flowers (blooming) before the spring is realized. So that's why this mutual understanding between cultures is very critical.

If we have these mutual exchanges, then we would have a better world – a world which is understanding a different perspective, a world which is giving space for everyone to grow, a world where we are able to tolerate our differences and look into positivity of peace and sustainable development.

And we need to care for our shared values, and our shared value in my view is to have a better world for everyone, leaving no one behind, being inclusive of all the cultures and to have many more flowers in the garden.

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