The study of peace has a dynamic focal point here in China. The Department of History at the University of Nanjing has been working persistently to initiate the field in China for several years in collaboration with the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies at Coventry University in England, and they graciously invited me to participate and present in a workshop on “Peace Studies Perspectives on Religion, Peace and War.”
Nanjing is the natural home for such efforts, given that it was the site of the worst atrocities of the Japanese invasion during the Second World War. Over the last two days I’ve been impressed with the vibrant inquiry of more than two dozen young Chinese scholars from all over China examining a broad range of issues related to peace – from the Peace of God of the European Middle Ages to Reinhold Niebuhr to the future of religious practice in China.
As we debate and discuss here in China, I am struck with how little we think of or work with China in terms of our peacebuilding strategies. We tend to be focused on immediate conflicts, but learning to engage the world’s rising superpower constructively should become an increasing priority as we go forward. The IMF recently predicted that China will surpass the U.S. as the world’s largest economy by 2016, and China’s escalating military spending to develop its own blue-water navy and stealth bomber have provoked expressions of concern from the Pentagon.
We will need to learn to understand each other and communicate more effectively to transcend what Amartya Sen, 1998 Nobel laureate for economics, calls the “shabby politics” that underpin so much of the conflict and wars marketed as clashes of civilizations. Collaboration on peace studies may be a great opportunity to help define commonalities and an agenda to ensure we can all get along during China’s “peaceful rise,” as its leaders have characterized it.
Some of those common domestic challenges between the U.S. and China are readily apparent: We both face issues of balancing runaway military spending with social concerns that include increasing income inequality (the top 1 percent of the population now owns 40 percent of financial assets in China, according to the National Bureau of Statistics), as well as environmental degradation and climate change. In the international sphere, defining a shared understanding and learning to work together more effectively for peace may be our biggest challenge in the coming years. Beginning to address peace and justice issues together could be a good place to start.
Milburn Line is executive director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice at the University of San Diego and is currently in Nanjing, China.