Muhammad Asif Noor
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a monumental endeavor initiated by China to enhance global connectivity and people-to-people bonds, has at times been portrayed in Western media as a potential catalyst for a clash between civilizations. They argue that China’s ambitious global outreach threatens Western interests and values. These allegations often take root in concerns about the cultural, economic, and geopolitical dimensions of the BRI, and tend to overlook the core objectives of the BRI, which revolve around promoting global prosperity, synergy and cooperation.
Boosting cultural understanding among participating countries, rather than transplanting Chinese culture onto others, is a key characteristic of the BRI. China has not sought to impose its culture or ideology but instead aims to build partnerships and achieve mutual development through cooperation. The collaborative projects under the BRI emphasize win-win outcomes rather than a zero-sum game.
One of the important pillars of cultural diversity cooperation and building people-to-people bonds is enhancing physical connectivity among participating countries. The diverse range of infrastructure development and cooperation within the framework of the BRI possesses a transformative power that helps promote cultural cooperation and catalyzes civilization exchanges hence fostering deep cultural understandings between participating nations. Roads, railways, and ports established under the BRI not only facilitate the flow of goods and services but also people and ideas. As travelers move across borders and explore new regions, they inevitably encounter diverse cultures, traditions, and belief systems.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a prime example of developing as a natural conduit for mutual understanding and appreciation. It features the construction of transportation networks, providing not only economic benefits but also creating an avenue for people from both nations to engage with one another. These interactions enable the sharing of cultural practices, art, music, and traditions, thus fostering cross-civilizational understanding.
Thanks to enhanced physical connectivity, China and Pakistan have seen intensified cultural exchanges in recent years. For example, the China Cultural Heritage Week celebrated in Pakistan unveiled the splendors of Chinese culture, while Pakistan reciprocated with its cultural festivals hosted in China, showcasing its diverse heritage and fostering cultural understanding.
Apart from easier transportation access, another powerful way that infrastructure cooperation enhances civilization exchanges is through the incorporation of cultural elements within BRI projects. These cultural elements often act as symbolic and practical hubs for people of different civilizations to come together. Several landmarks and infrastructures like Karakoram High Way, Gawadar Port, and CPEC projects serve as more than just structural achievements; they are cultural fusion points where people gather to celebrate their shared and distinct cultural identities.
Education emerged as another catalyst for strengthening cultural bonds among participating countries. According to the white paper titled “The Belt and Road Initiative: A Key Pillar of the Global Community of Shared Future” that China released on October 10, Chinese universities and colleges have opened 313 Confucius Institutes and 315 Confucius Classrooms in 132 partner countries. The “Chinese Bridge” Summer Camp has invited nearly 50,000 young people from more than 100 partner countries to come to China for academic visits and supported 100,000 Chinese language enthusiasts from 143 partner countries to learn Chinese and experience Chinese culture online.
Cultural exchange and understanding are central tenets of the BRI. Instead of promoting cultural conflicts, the BRI facilitates cultural harmony and mutual respect. China’s openness to embracing participating countries’ cultures and vice versa has led to a rich exchange of traditions, languages, and arts. By the end of June 2023, China had signed cultural and tourism cooperation documents with more than 150 countries and 30 international organizations.
Under the BRI framework, China continues to expand international cultural exchanges. Apart from further enhancing physical connectivity, a slew of organized signature events such as the Happy Chinese New Year celebrations, the Nihao China tourism promotions, and the Silk Road: Artists’ Rendezvous art exhibition have been launched to promote cultural understanding among countries across the world.
The abovementioned collaboration exemplifies not only the spirit of the BRI but also the complementarity among participating countries, which serves as a compelling rebuttal to the misconceptions perpetuated by Western media. The economic synergy, cultural exchange, geopolitical cooperation, and commitment to sustainable development challenge the narrative that the BRI causes cultural clashes.
The author Muhammad Asif Noor is the founder of the forum “Friends of Belt and Road Initiative” and an advisor to the Pakistan Research Center under Hebei Normal University, China.
*The article was published earlier in CGTN