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History Table of Contents
1997 Summer Conference
Summer Conference 1997
Canada and the Asia-Pacific Promise: Hope, Hype and Reality
A Meeting of Cultures and a Clash of Values:
Living Together in an Interdependent World

Immee Chee Wah,
Publisher, Maclean's Chinese language edition

I believe it was Freidrich Hertz who said: "Culture is always a product of mixing."

In this light, a meeting of cultures can only give hope for the rise of a global culture and for the increase in values that are universal.

With that in mind, I will offer a few thoughts and hopes on living together in an interdependent world. It centres on individual discovery and dialogue, which are the stepping stones toward the building of common ground and the increasing universally-shared values.

A philosopher once said: "What concerns me, is not the way things are, but rather the way people think things are."

Too often there is the perception that people who share the same cultural heritage also share the same values and, therefore, the same or a single point of view.

There is great diversity within communities. Asia is not a single entity. It includes about three billion people, hundreds of races, languages, cultures and values.

On the home front, the Chinese community in Canada is a good example of that. In the minds of many, the typical Chinese is probably the recent wealthy immigrant from Hong Kong. The reality is that while there are many immigrants from Hong Kong, the community is quite diverse, and not all Chinese immigrants are wealthy.

The Chinese community includes immigrants from Taiwan, China, Singapore, Vietnam and other countries. Not all are new immigrants to Canada; not all view economic, political and social issues the same.

One need only look at the recent federal election. There were Chinese candidates running for the Liberal, Conservative, New Democratic and, yes, even Reform parties.

As cultures meet, it is individuals, whether as politicians, families, friends, or trading partners, whose perceptions and attitudes will make the difference between 'problem' or 'progress' in our approach to one another. It is the influence at the individual level that provides a step toward the building of common ground.

In this vein, Canadian values to me best embody the concept of living together in an interdependent world. It is a concept that says that caring for one's own individuality best equips one with the tolerance for the differences of others.

Canadian values can work at all levels and provide the leadership and example in harmonizing the state of affairs between East and West. We are a country that places the most emphasis on tolerance and reconciliation, not only permitting but encouraging the free development and expression of different ethnic groups and cultures within our own borders.

Having said that, I also strongly believe that the Canadian way is about responsibility. It is when it is lacking in this, that it is sometimes misunderstood or misused. It is vulnerable when you view self interests first, without responsibility to others. It is vulnerable when you tolerate others' views without responsibility for your own.

At its best, and this is what we should aspire to, it is a two way dialogue of mutual respect, understanding, and responsibility. It is a celebration and appreciation of each other's diversity, and a building of common ground.

Even though it may not be apparent, when we are talking about cultures that seem so different as those in the East and those in the West, there is always common ground.

As an example, I recently read about a study of executive values across six Asian countries, compared to a similar study done earlier in the U.S.

The top seven Asian values were hard work, respect for learning, honesty, openness to new ideas, accountability, self discipline, and self-reliance.

Although they were ordered in different importance, two of these values, hard work and self-reliance, overlapped with the values of American executives.

What was also important is that while Asian business persons as a group exhibited some similarities, they didn't agree on everything.

Those in Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong formed a mini-cluster that placed less importance than other Asians on achieving financial success and maintaining individual rights. Executives in South Korea and Taiwan stood out with their emphasis on self-reliance and openness to new ideas.

Interestingly, female Asian executives had a value profile that more closely resembled the overall North American value set. Think of the possibilities.

For your information, the top seven American values were, freedom of information, no surprise; personal freedom, self- reliance, individual rights, hard work, personal achievement, and thinking for one's self.?As trade and human links increase between East and West, think of the dialogue and discovery that will arise from Asian values, such as openness to new ideas, with American and western values, such as freedom of expression.

That leads to another consideration.

Much of the change in the future will emerge from Asia itself and that, too, will affect how relations work between East and West.

I believe it was an economist that said, cultures never operate in isolation. When affecting how people behave, they are always part of a wider mix. That mix includes governmental policies, personal leadership, technological or economic change and so on.

Consider this, on the education front, over 200,000 Chinese students have studied abroad in the past 17 years in countries such as the United States, Japan, Canada, Germany, Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand.

Of those, 40,000 have been sponsored by the Chinese government, 80,000 by state enterprises and 100,000, or half, were self-supported. Today over 150,000 are still studying overseas. And these numbers do not include the many other Asians outside of China that are studying abroad.

If, as Lyndon B. Johnson said, "education is the answer to all of the world's problems," then it is expected and hoped, that both the East and the West will gradually benefit with this exchange.

As more and more Asians gain affluence and education, their aspirations and values will change. Over the next decade, there is likely to be political changes as well, because a new generation will take over. Furthermore, the explosion of technology and media in the world, makes it very difficult for cultures to be isolated from one another.

Canada, with its increasing diversity of communities, can be a strong link in the Asia Pacific world. The Asia Pacific conference that's happening this year is a good example of that.

A headline in last year's Vancouver Sun declared, "English now a minority language in Vancouver."

These rapid changes are not without their challenges for both current and new Canadians, but the willingness and ability to learn from this, on both sides, will be invaluable in how we approach relationships in the world stage.

We have much to learn. And we definitely have much to share.