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Asia should look within itself: Forum

Updated: 2014-04-13 07:16
By Jiang Xueqing in Bo'ao, Hainan province ( China Daily)

Focusing on the region's cultures can boost development, participants say

Asia's distinctive cultural resources can propel the development of the continent's businesses, and the region's cultural diversity can provide new ideas and opportunities for Asian economic integration.

This was the consensus of participants in a panel discussion hosted by Beijing Foreign Studies University on Thursday at the Boao Forum for Asia in China's Hainan province.

"This year, Asia has become the most active region in the world in terms of economic development," the university's president Peng Long said.

"But there is still a lot of room for economic integration as the GDP per capita in Asia is only one-fifth of that in the European Union and one-eighth of that in North America. Many countries are thinking about how to find a new driving force to stimulate social and enterprise development by exploring Asian cultures."

The panelists agreed that Asian economic integration must be in step with cultural values and based on mutual understanding and respect.

Although Asia is a culturally diverse region and cultures vary considerably from one country to another, Asian cultures share a general characteristic of mutual tolerance. This enables the people to accept different levels of economic development and different models of economic growth during the economic integration process, said Long Yongtu, a member of the Council of Advisors of the Boao Forum for Asia.

"Mutual respect means I don't want to change others. It means I respect you as you are. This is very important," said Arun Maira, a member of the Indian Planning Commission.

"If you want to grow the global economy, you must not enforce just one way on everything."

Zhang Xiping, director of the National Research Center of Overseas Sinology at Beijing Foreign Studies University, emphasized that China needs to conduct an overall study of Asian cultures because systematic analyses of Asia by Chinese intellectuals have been almost missing since the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

"During the last 100 years, we have devoted a lot more attention to Europe and the US than to our neighbors, because Asian countries are smaller in size and weaker in economic development," Zhang said.

"Chinese undergraduates can easily talk about Western intellectuals and tell stories related to Western culture, but they know little about Cambodia and Laos."

However, the situation has started to change, he said, since Chinese President Xi Jinping made diplomacy with neighboring countries a priority.

Zhang urged Chinese scholars to introduce Asia's rich and diversified cultures to the general public and domestic companies to help increase mutual understanding among Asian countries.

Beijing Foreign Studies University invited Sinologists from 19 Asian countries to attend a seminar on Asian cultures and values in Beijing last October.

"We hope that our neighbors will get a real picture of China through the eyes of Sinologists," Zhang said.

The university has also started building a database of Sinologists around the world and is collecting information on academic institutions specializing in Asian studies.

The university offers programs in all the official languages of the ASEAN countries to cultivate knowledge about China's neighboring countries and cultivate talent with excellent Asian-language skills.