Towards a Conversation Across Civilisations
It has become increasingly difficult to engage in reasonable discussions about the state of the world amid rising international tensions. The present environment of global instability and conflict has emerged over the course of the past fifteen years driven by, on the one hand, the growing weakness of the principal North Atlantic states, led by the United States – which we call the West – and, on the other, the increasing assertion of large developing countries, exemplified by the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). This group of states, along with several others, have built the material conditions for their own development agendas, including for the next generation of technology, a sector that had previously been the monopoly of Western states and firms through the World Trade Organisation’s intellectual property rights regime. Alongside the BRICS, the construction of regional trade and development projects in Africa, Asia, and Latin America that are not controlled by the Western states or Western-dominated institutions – including the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (2001) the Belt and Road Initiative (2013), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (2011), and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (2022) – heralds the emergence of a new international economic order.
Since the world financial crisis of 2007–08, the United States and its North Atlantic allies have become acutely aware that their hegemonic status in the world has deteriorated. This decline is the consequence of three key forms of overreach: first, military overreach through both enormous military expenditure and warfare; second, financial overreach caused by the rampant waste of social wealth into the unproductive financial sector along with the widespread imposition of sanctions, dollar hegemony, and control of international financial mechanisms (such as SWIFT); and, third, economic overreach, due to the investment and tax strike of a minuscule section of the world’s population, who are solely fixated on filling their already immense private coffers. This overreach has led to the fragility of the Western states, which are less able to exercise their authority around the world. In reaction to their own weakness and the new developments in the Global South, the United States has led its allies in launching a comprehensive pressure campaign against what it considers to be its ‘near peer rivals’, namely China and Russia. This hostile foreign policy, which includes a trade war, unilateral sanctions, aggressive diplomacy, and military operations, is now commonly known as the New Cold War.
In addition to these tangible measures, information warfare is a key element of the New Cold War. In Western societies today, any effort to promote a balanced and reasonable conversation about China and Russia, or indeed about the leading states in the developing world, is relentlessly attacked by state, corporate, and media institutions as disinformation, propaganda, and foreign interference. Even established facts, let alone alternative perspectives, are treated as matters of dispute. Consequently, it has become virtually impossible to engage in constructive discussions about the changing world order, the new trade and development regimes, or the urgent matters which require global cooperation such as climate change, poverty, and inequality, without being dismissed. In this context, dialogue between intellectuals in countries such as China with their counterparts in the West has broken down. Similarly, dialogue between intellectuals in countries of the Global South and China has also been hampered by the New Cold War, which has strained the already weak communication channels within the developing world. As a result, the conceptual landscape, terms of reference, and key debates that are taking place within China are almost entirely unknown outside of the country, which makes the holding of rational cross-country discussions very difficult.
The New Cold War has led to an enormous spike in Sinophobia and anti-Asian racism in the Western states, frequently egged on by political leaders. The rise in Sinophobia has deepened the lack of genuine engagement by Western intellectuals with contemporary Chinese perspectives, discussions, and debates; and due to the immense power of Western information flows around the world, these dismissive attitudes have also grown in many developing countries. Although there are increasing numbers of international students in China, these students tend to study technical subjects and generally do not focus on or participate in the broader political discussions within and about China.
In the current global climate of conflict and division, it is essential to develop lines of communication and encourage exchange between China, the West, and the developing world. The range of political thinking and discourse within China is immense, stretching from a variety of Marxist approaches to the ardent advocacy of neoliberalism, from deep historical examinations of Chinese civilisation to the deep wells of patriotic thought that have grown in the recent period. Far from static, these intellectual trends have evolved over time and interact with each other. A rich variety of Marxist thinking, from Maoism to creative Marxism, has emerged in China; although these trends all focus on socialist theories, history, and experiments, each trend has developed a distinct school of thought with its own internal discourse as well as debates with other traditions. Meanwhile, the landscape of patriotic thinking is far more eclectic, with some tendencies overlapping with Marxist trends, which is understandable given the connections between Marxism and national liberation; whereas others are closer to offering culturalist explanations for China’s developmental advances. This diversity of thought is not reflected in external understandings or representations of China – even in the scholarly literature – which instead largely reproduces the postures of the New Cold War.
To contribute to the development of a better understanding of and engagement with the thinking and discussions taking place within China, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and Dongsheng have partnered with Wenhua Zongheng (文化纵横), a leading journal of contemporary Chinese political and cultural thought. Founded in 2008, the journal is an important reference for debates and intellectual developments taking place in the country, publishing issues every two months which feature articles by intellectuals from a range of professions across the entire country. In this partnership, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and Dongsheng will publish an international edition of Wenhua Zongheng, releasing four issues per year in English, Portuguese, and Spanish, which will be curated by our joint editorial team. The international edition will include translations of a selection of articles from the original Chinese editions that hold particular significance for the Global South. Additionally, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research will run a column in the Chinese edition of Wenhua Zongheng, bringing voices from Africa, Asia, and Latin America in dialogue with China (some of which will also be published in the international edition). We are excited to undertake this project and hope that it will introduce readers to the vibrant discourse underway in China, share important perspectives from the Global South with a Chinese audience, and enrich international dialogue and understanding. Instead of the global division pursued by the New Cold War, our mission is to learn from each other towards a world of collaboration rather than confrontation.