Decoding China: UNESCO lauds China-proposed initiatives
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 Global Civilization Initiative.

CGTN: China has the second largest number of UNESCO world heritage sites only behind Italy. Can we hope, with the potential that China has, that in the coming years it will overtake Italy in terms of its number of UNESCO world heritage sites?

Shahbaz Khan: To be honest, it's not about competition. These heritage sites belong to everyone in the world. Heritage site in Italy, heritage site in India (or) heritage site in China belongs to all of us. I think more than the number of sites, I strongly believe China's desire to help other countries, to link with other countries, to give room for their culture and tradition, and to give room for their development, I think, it's more beautiful than just the number of sites. Of course, I'm sure China has so much to offer.

For intangible heritage, now China has the highest number of intangible element. I looked into how many intangible heritage elements are in China? According to one survey, there are more than 50,000. For UNESCO, we can only recognize a few because it's very, very strong competition. So certainly China will have many, many more world heritage sites, but I strongly believe it's not about competition, it's about cooperation and it's about the global civilization. It's about many flowers which make a spring in the garden.

CGTN: The Global Civilization Initiative (GCI), which has been proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, emphasizes the importance of promoting inclusiveness among civilizations. How do you view this initiative and how do you think this can contribute in understanding among different countries?

Shahbaz Khan: This Global Civilization Initiative is very much what the United Nations system is about. If you think of today, we are tackling many of the issues around the world, including climate change, disasters, issues related to geopolitics and the unrest and peace problem; we need to understand the global civilization in a very careful way. From a perspective of inclusiveness, this is what sustainable development goals (SDG) are.

And a very important principle is leaving no one behind; that's inclusiveness. But also very importantly, President Xi Jinping's desire to have more multilateralism and better understanding of civilizations, and supporting our SDGs with Global Development Initiative and also the initiatives such as the Global Security Initiative, and now coming to Global Civilization Initiative, this is a continuum of saying to the world: We need to take account, show respect, understand different cultures and have a mutual understanding as humans on this planet Earth. There's only one planet Earth, all of us are global citizens; that's what UNESCO will put it forward as. So, it's very much what UNESCO has been doing over more than 75 years – how do we bring intercultural dialogue? This intercultural dialogue is very important.

That's why global civilization concept is very important in understanding different nations, understanding their perspectives and avoiding wars, which is really the purpose of the United Nations and UNESCO.

We say we need to build the defenses of peace in the minds of people because that's where the wars begin, and that's what UNESCO's mission is. China is a very strong supporter of UNESCO and we really very welcome this global civilization concept.

CGTN: As China strengthens its international exchanges through its various programs, including the Belt and Road Initiative, how do you think these efforts will contribute in building a community with a shared future for mankind?

Shahbaz Khan: The Belt and Road Initiative is a very important initiative, bringing nations together to move to the next level of shared prosperity, (and) exchanging ideas, technologies (and) businesses.

As we have already mentioned, conservation of world heritage sites, also setting up special education centers. For example, I was in Guangdong Province recently and I went to Guangzhou and visited the Chinese Academy of Sciences and their South China Sea Institute of Oceanology. They have set up a special center in Sri Lanka about education between Chinese government and Sri Lanka's. There are many such examples. In UNESCO, we have what we called Silk Roads initiative, which links to the world heritages of Silk Road from Chang'an to Tianshan.

Along these wonderful silk roads and maritime silk roads, there is amazing heritage exchange of also businesses, like as we mentioned before, tea coming from China to the other parts of the world, the silk being traded across the world, spices coming back to China and many other interesting things including exchange of ideas, religion (and) poetry. You might know the Buddhist monk Xuanzang's journey in the 7th century; it was along these roads as well. And if we know the later journeys in 13th, 14th and 15th century, like Ibn Batuta, Marco Polo, and Zheng He. So, this is really a continuation.

The beauty about China, as I see, is about understanding the world with Chinese characteristics all the time, so bringing more cultures and knowledge and bringing those Chinese characteristics of mutual respect and understanding.

So now, with the Belt and Road Initiative and the (concept of) shared prosperity, it certainly is the next level of China sharing its desire, its culture as well as its technological knowhow to help other nations to go to the next level of development for their people, working more and more stronger connection for the people to understand each other and understand China in a much better way as well. I'm originally from Pakistan. We have China Pakistan Economic Corridor, a very important corridor.

As Chinese engineers and workers are working in Pakistan, they develop very strong friendships with the local people. This is now expanding to Iran. It's going all the way to Europe.

So, that actually unites and brings cultures together, and brings better understanding. So we need to build our businesses, our new e-commerce, our artificial intelligence and other technologies. But at the same time, we need to remain human. And for that, we need to have better understanding of cultures along these projects. We need to have better building of human capacity so that people can talk at the same level and can be equal partners.

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