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02 / 07 / 2004
Eric Teo (Singapore International Relations Institute): “It is important to create bridges between east and west in order to understand each other”

The Dialogue “East-West” opened this morning and will run until July 3. It will take a look at the differences between the two cultures and how to bring them closer.

More information about East-West Dialogue

The Dialogue East-West started this morning. Among those present was writer Luís Racionero; the director general of Casa Àsia, Ion de la Riva; Manuel Montobbio, of the Foreign Affairs Ministry; the former primer minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Bin Mohamad; and, the coordinator of the Forum dialogues, Pedro Ralda. During the opening session, particular mention was made of the need for the two cultures to interact more and thereby enrich each other.

Eric Teo, the president of this morning’s session and the honorary secretary of the Singapore International Relations Institute, Eric Teo, explained that the main difference stems from the fact that Western culture is based on explicit facts while Eastern culture is based on implicit facts. “The West believes in the rational, in the pragmatic, the existentialism, existentialism and individualism, while in the East we believe in gestures, signals, animalism, in the imaginary, in all that is unspoken,” added Teo.

Eric Teo explained that although there are differences between cultures “we’re coming closer together culturally, historically and geopolitically. For Teo it is important to create “bridges between us in order to learn about one another and confront the Muslim fundamentalism that is on the rise.”

The director of Bureau of Strategic Planning of UNESCO, Hans d’Orville defended contact, understanding, assessment and respect between the two communities and that these values be part of Unesco’s constitution.

D’Orville said that the events were held to bring the cultures closer together. He mentioned efforts by Casa Asia to understand other cultures and their revision of both the translation and education programs. D’Orville said that “now that we have values, mechanics, technology we can have intercultural exchange automatically.” D’Orville went on to say that “African and Muslim values are being forgotten.” D’Orville said that in a global world “dialogue is essential and will only work if we all take part, especially the youth.”

Professor at the National University of Seoul and former minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of Korea, Yoon Young-Kwan, talked about the two Koreas. Young Kwan explained that, “in the 80s the West saw the conflict as a security problem, in the 90s they see that it is a military, economic, diplomatic, political and humanitarian problem. “These two conceptions of national security and the economic problem in North Korea are essential to understanding North Korea’s nuclear weapons problem,” added Young-Kwan.

The totalitarian system after the war meant that Japan and the US sided with the South. “Nuclear weapons are the only way North Korea can safeguard security and negotiate wit the US although the whole world hates this.” Young-Kwan justified this by saying that “North Korea does this do to its economic hardship.” This goes forgotten and misunderstood in the West. Young-Kwan concluded by saying that “in Europe we have learned a good example of conflict resolution.”

Yasmin Congar, a reporter for the newspaper Milliyet and for CNN in Turkey, spoke of exile between East and West and of how her home town is a meeting point between West and East. Congar mentioned the possibility of Turkey joining the European Union and that, if this were the case, “many exiled people could return home.” Congar spoke of how Istanbul has changed over the recent years due to immigration and how, today, you can find attitudes that favor Westernization as well as more conservative attitudes. She said that not all of the problems come down to a clash between civilizations. She is in favor of dialogue that reflects the reality of the two cultures in order to understand and respect each other.

Philip Bobbitt, a professor at Texas University, spoke of the generalizations that the West makes about the East, and vice versa. Bobbitt defended the reform of the International Law of Versailles as it reflects new needs and current problems. Bobbitt added that we need to take into account aspects such as nuclear proliferation, terrorism and humanitarian aid. Bobbitt also said that the current law does not address these issues and that it needs to be reformed so that “that which is universal becomes personal and, thus, it is more sensitive to cultural diversity. In order to overcome the differences between the West and East, cooperation and work are needed. They are not our enemies, but rather our unconvinced friends,” concluded Bobbitt.

Georges Corm, professor at Saint Joseph University in Beirut and former Lebanese Finance Minister, spoke of how the West has turned a blind eye to the people of Palestine, especially in terms of the preferential treatment many countries give Israel. Corm added that the wars between Catholics and Protestants and the religious wars between East and West are the West’s two major traumas.

The emergence of political anti-Semitism of the Nazi regime “lead to the need to create a Jewish state. The problem is the Arabs were forced to feel the same way, even though we have nothing to do with that part of European history.” According to Corm, the problem has nothing to do with religion, as “religion alone is not a cause of war.” Corm argued that dialogue “must revive the era of the Enlightenment and secularism, which dealt with topics that were truly of interest to people and addressed their suffering. The West’s cultural trauma is the best present for Islamic fundamentalists, as it causes democratic values to be manipulated.”