Dawn of the East

pic by AFP

RODRIGO Duterte, president of the Philippines, was there. King of Jordan Abdullah Al-Hussein and presidents of Azerbaijan — Ilham Aliyev, and Kazakhstan — Kasym-Jomart Tokayev, were there too, as well as their host, Russian President Vladimir Putin. The theme of their discussion was Dawn of the East and the Global Political Order.

It was in Sochi, some 1,600km to the south of Moscow, where the Valdai discussion club was holding its annual meeting.

I was one of those who attended the first Valdai in 2004. At that time, it was a gathering of maybe 20 best Western experts on Russia, eager to comprehend the complexities of our development.

Now, Valdai is one of the very few forums in the world where you can get a relatively clear picture of the world.

And that picture looks moderately optimistic. It means that Russians and other Asians attending the discussion were very far from the grim idea that the world is going to the dogs. Maybe, it is based on the current development, but the next lap of that journey has every chance of being pleasant and very Asian too.

There is an annual Valdai report that is distributed to the attendees in advance, comprising the big idea that will be discussed at the sessions.

Participants did read the paper and so did Putin, who disputed some of its points.

The people who wrote the report, he said, were claiming that from now on there’ll be no world order.

Yes, that’s a possibility. But if we all work together, the world will be orderly again — especially if we accommodate its various cultures and different sets of values.

And Asia has a very positive role to play. Russia too. Our country, Putin said, is a civilisation in itself, integrating from the very start the different communities and developing tolerance instead of imposing standard values on everyone.

The report contains one chapter — the “Lost In Translation: The Era of Plurality of Values” which coincides with a lot of my previous columns.

The author’s general idea is that the new global centres of power — and that’s Asia and Russia — are developing their own sets of values.

They also want other civilisations to accept if not the values, but at least the fact that others have their own view of the world.

The thing called “universal values” was not so bad, said the authors. It is the thing that could bring a lot of stability to the world.

But the way these “universal values” were pushed onto nations looked more like a threat to a lot of traditions and in, to an extent, national sovereignty.

Today, we have a lot of different worlds. There is also the practical experience that tells us nobody can impose things on everyone.

So, the task now, said the authors, is to develop abilities to understand each other. For starters, to respect each other’s differences.

But so far, what we see in the communications between, for example Russia and the West, often look like angry trolling, derision and disgust. Our best intentions are lost in translation, the report said.

As I know personally some of the authors of the document, I asked them: Do you know that Chairman Xi Jinping of China had recently made a very similar speech at a Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilisations in Beijing?

Have they read some of the speeches by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister of Malaysia, which contain the same ideas? The answer was ‘No’.

It is one thing when you accept someone’s thoughts and spread them as your own, as many people do it all the time. It is another thing when you develop absolutely similar concepts independently. Then comes the question, which is better? Both are generally acceptable.

The Valdai session will also be remembered for many other things. Duterte inviting the Russian Church to work in the Philippines which by itself is an interesting idea.

Putin announcing a Russia-Africa Summit to be held in Sochi by the end of the month after Russia’s conspicuous absence in Africa for almost three decades, except for maybe in the last couple of years.

Or how Russia-Philippines trade had doubled in 2018, but while its trade with China has grown by “only” 27%? All these developments add well to the general picture.

And the picture is…only a year ago, also in an annual Valdai report, the same authors have said we live in a “crumbling” world. What we see now is a tad different and the Asian world is organising itself in a very desirable order.

Dmitry Kosyrev is an author of 8 novels and a book of short stories, as well as a columnist for 2 Moscow publications. Orientalist by education (Moscow University), he has a special love for Malaysia.