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China 2.0

No, Asia Won't Save The World

Some prominent thinkers believe that Asian values can better manage human affairs and our relationship with nature. And yet, sadly, selfishness is a universal condition.Â

In Beijing
In Beijing
Frédéric Koller

-Essay-

GENEVA — Is the future of our world in Asia's hands? For years, people have been prophesizing that the continent will move to the center of everyone's attentions during the 21st century.

As far as the economy is concerned, the shift from the Atlantic to the Pacific is confirmed a little more each day. After two centuries of Western domination, the East appears set to take over. Or rather, the Asia-Pacific, which includes the Americas. Everybody has jumped on the bandwagon since Barack Obama launched the "pivot" strategy. From Russia and Europe to South America and Africa, they're all turning their gaze towards eastern Asia and its locomotive economy, China.


But there's more than just the economy. This shift towards Asia, in the reshaping of a new global balance, could also turn out to be cultural and, even, philosophical. As a matter of fact, it needs to be if we want to save our planet.


"Over the last centuries, the West has been living under the principle that the right of the individual prevails over that of the community," says Michael Møller, the acting director-general of the United Nations Office in Geneva. "It's the other way around in Asia. I'm convinced that, for our planet's survival, we will need to look toward the Asian model a lot more. This is a fundamental change in how we live, how we organize, how the individual sees his role in society. This leads to a cultural and existential change. We've abused our planet so much that, if we are to survive as a species, we'll need to reshape our whole inter-community interaction."

What universal values?


Møller's words echo those of Pascal Lamy, the World Trade Organization's former director-general, who told Le Temps in a 2013 interview about the need for global values to emerge to better confront globalization. The "universal values" that emerged after World War II can no longer fulfill that role because they're too much associated with the West, he explained. We have to take into account African and Asian mindsets to build a new language that speaks about "global public goods."


Such reflections are stimulating, disturbing even. They suppose a failure of Western thinking to manage relationships amongst peoples, and between man and nature.


Given the state of our planet and of international relationships, their stance is hard to dispute. But is it correct to characterize the "universal values" the UN-system abides by as "Western" values? Isn't that the continuation of a form of paternalism that minimizes everything that non-European peoples and nations have contributed to these norms?


What's more, what is it that gives the impression that the Asian, and more particularly Chinese, culture would be more capable of solving conflicts among humans on the one hand, and between humans and nature on the other? Paradoxically, the sense of community in Asia — which is eroding just as it did in Europe in the face of modernity — doesn't encourage solidarity any more than Western individualism. Selfishness is a universally shared flaw of the human race.


The same holds for our relationship to nature. The need to dominate, to be in charge, is present in most cultures, just as the wish to return to nature, to show it more respect, is a universal aspiration.


Rather than comparing cultures, shouldn't we be questioning the value of the market that now dominates the entire world?

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