A major new event on Asia's diplomatic and cultural calendar got underway in Beijing on Wednesday: The Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations.
The gathering of academics, political and cultural leaders at the China National Convention Center, a stone's throw from the Bird's Nest Stadium in the Olympic Park, was a precursor to a week of events in China's capital celebrating the cultural diversity of Asian nations.
So, what's it all about?
CDAC is, essentially, a platform to learn about the commonalities and differences of Asian countries, to share cultural delights – from film and literature to food and travel – and to promote mutual understanding across the continent at a time of multiple global changes and challenges.
On the one hand, the world is becoming more multicultural, societal changes are rapid, tech is changing lives and countries' fortunes are increasingly interconnected; yet on the other, unilateralist and populist trends are gaining currency and radicalism remains a persistent issue.
Some see positives, others negatives, but few can doubt that understanding one another better has rarely been more important.
This is part of the purpose of CDAC. Just as the Beijing Olympics back in 2008 brought people together through sport – and helped the world learn a little more about China's present – the Beijing event is about boosting communication, sharing experiences and ideas from across Asia.
It is about looking back at the histories of Asian countries and celebrating diversity, learning from the past to work out how best to thrive alongside one another now and in the future.
The event raises questions about cooperation between Asian nations and the routes towards shared development: Can and should Asian countries do more in concert? Where can more cooperation lead, and through what mechanisms can it be achieved? And, how will the shared future under discussion be further developed over the coming years?
But it's far from just academic discussions.
Cultural exchanges and displays, sharing the joys of food, film and art, will be on view in Beijing for the next week to build momentum that may help nudge Asian countries – home to half the world's population – a little closer.
CDAC is a platform to boost regional cooperation and interaction, ultimately to improve communication – and by doing so helping to promote harmony and prosperity across Asia.