In recent years, development and aid agencies have understood that projects can only be successful if the values and culture of those on the receiving end are taken into account.
Cultural understanding is becoming a key element of development work
It used to be called simply development aid but now talk among those who want to promote economic, social and environmental development is of cooperation. Cultural exchange is the name of the game, and mutual understanding.
The 911 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York plunged the world into crisis
The change is also a result of the transformations that the world has gone through since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, as well as the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.
Pushpanathan Sundram, the deputy secretary general of ASEAN, thinks mutual understanding is of utmost importance in the light of the global situation and the fact that countries are becoming increasingly interdependent economically.
"If you open up your mind, open up your soul, then you will be able to understand one another. Because if we don't understand one another, then you have what you call a clash of cultures," he explains.
"The West can learn from ASEAN"
The politician, who is from Singapore, thinks that the Western world could learn from ASEAN, especially with regard to China and the question of human rights.
There are millions of migrant workers in China
"ASEAN's relation with China is fantastic - it is very good because we learn from each other, we see ourselves as equal partners, and if there is a disagreement we accept it and we look forward to looking at how to resolve it.
"So I think there needs to be a two-way channel for learning each other's culture and how to appreciate and tolerate one another's culture. That's the way to go forward," he says.
Migration poses a challenge
The Association of South East Asian Nations has good relations with China
Meanwhile, in the globalized world, where there is a constant flux of migration, Baige Zhao, China's vice minister for population and family planning, thinks that countries can learn about mutual understanding from the way China deals with its population of migrant workers.
"In China, we really take urbanization and migration as key elements because no matter whether or not you like it, people's movement, free movement, has become the trend. We see this as positive but it is also a great challenge for the government and society."
Clashes over how to define human rights
Despite an apparent readiness to embrace the other and to promote cultural exchange, sticking points remain - especially with regard to human rights. China and the West have often clashed in the past over their definition.
However, Sweden's former development minister, Jan Karlsson, believes there is cause for hope. "As a European, you sometimes come to a situation where you say 'this is not human rights'. We come to a line where we have to ask how we see the values laid down in the protocol for human rights. Thank goodness, mankind has invented a universal organisation and has a protocol of human rights. We stand on reasonably fixed ground that this is something all mankind has to abide."
Most governments would agree with this attitude in theory but few are ready to give up their sovereignty in deciding certain matters that they think pertain to their national interest only.
Author: Cem Bey (act)
Editor: Disha Uppal