Opening Remarks by Joseph Gerson

Third China-U.S. Civil Society Peace Forum

Changzhou, China June 20, 2010

Advisor Mao Rubai, Vice Chairperson Madam Yang Junqi, Vice Minister Li Jijun, People’s Congress Representative Li Quan Lin, Mayor Wan Wei Cheng, friends, and other distinguished participants, on behalf of the American Friends Service Committee  I want to thank you for all that you and your colleagues have done to make today’s Peace Forum possible. Thanks, too, to Professors Bartoli an Hamrin for organizing the ICAR delegation from George Mason College.

            On a personal note, I want to say what a pleasure it is to be continuing conversations with Mao Rubai who we hosted in the United States for the Second Peace Forum, Niu Qing, Chen Duming and Wu Kesheng and to have an opportunity to see and continue learning from Ding Li Shen, who I last saw at Fudan University more than a decade ago.  I also want to say how much I have benefitted from our two previous Peace Forums, in which we identified and explored the best ways to deal with the “competitive interdependence” between our two nations whose bi-lateral relationship is and will be the most important and determinative one of the first half of the 21st century.

Today’s exchanges will be enlightening for us all, and I trust will contribute to mutual understanding of our nations, and will help us to identify ways that we can facilitate the peaceful rise of China, heal and revitalize U.S. society, and minimize and overcome the contradictions that are inevitable when the power and influence of a hegemonic power declines – at least relatively – and a dynamic new power attends to its interests and ambitions.

            As I have told a number of people during the week, while being privileged to visit Beijing, Nanjing and now Changzhou, fifteen years ago or more when the challenges inherent in China’s rise became apparent, I asked Musakoji Kinhide, the very wise man who introduced peace studies to Japan, how conflict could be avoided. His answer was that it is imperative to weave a web of relations between the people of China, other East Asian nations and the United States that would make war unthinkable. Many others have been weaving that web, in their cultural, business, academic, governmental and other exchanges, and today we will do our part, as we share this too rare opportunity.

     Such webs of relationships do not, of course, remove the sources of conflict and tension, the contradictions within and between our societies. To do so we must honestly and patiently talk about the most difficult issues in our relationships, the hot spots, with a recognition that new syntheses are inevitable. This is why I am so looking forward to our sessions that will address the increasingly sharp and potentially dangerous strategic and economic tensions that are tearing at our interdependence. In a variety of ways we can engage in peace building, address social crises, and explore how to make our societies more resilient and still more vital.

Our exchanges today are a rare opportunity to work together, as scholars and political actors across a broad range of civil society, to contribute to resolving tensions and crises in ways that are just and enduring, that contribute to human and common security, and that can be achieved with as little human pain and suffering as possible. Even as we are relatively few in number, we have wide and deep networks and connections to others in our countries and beyond.  Our task is to relieve human suffering and to create the foundations on which our peoples and others can enjoy secure and meaningful lives as far into the future as we can imagine.

            As we begin, I trust that we will be mindful that we are speaking to and across very different cultures that have much in common. If, as the writer William Falkner observed, the past isn’t really past, the reality is that we carry and are shaped by the experiences, world views and values of our cultures. Our different, in some ways competing, cultural values, histories and national interests are the foundations of our being and are to be respected for their enormous contributions to the human experience. As we proceed, let us honor one another’s cultures and historical experiences, even as we are critical and self critical of the weaknesses and flaws that are woven deeply into their fabrics. Let us remember that even as our societies are increasingly and deeply entwined, we ignore the importance of national self-determination in making the changes and building the relationships that are necessary for our common security at our peril.

            As I have traveled this week, I have been reminded of a theory I had to learn when I was an undergraduate student in Professor Carroll Quigley’s course on the evolution of civilizations. Quigley taught that often when a dominant civilization declines, another developing is able to take lessons from it, create new syntheses, and emerge as the new preeminent civilization. As I have looked at what people are building here in China and listened to people speak, I find myself wondering if what Professor Quigley taught is what I have been witnessing.

            Let me conclude by noting that as we will take enormous strides today, there will be many conversations that are incomplete, differences that will not be resolved. That’s not a problem. Today’s Peace Forum allows us to begin and continue many conversations. Our most important task and achievement for today is to build the foundations and relationships that will allow us to continue our dialog, to learn from one another and to imagine what we can build together over the future and for the future.

            Okay?! I’m anxious to get to work.

Read the article on the Peace Forum in CRIEnglish.