Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, with the aim of expanding China’s cooperation with neighboring countries and regions. The initiative represents a major contribution to the region and the world, adding momentum to a new phase of economic globalization and Beijing hosted the Belt and Road Summit in May 2017, to increase the visibility and understanding of the plan.
This initiative joins an array of newly developed diplomatic policies and guidelines put forward by China. While acknowledging its growing global status, China recognizes the need to consider wider global interests and to help protect world peace, advance sustained development, and actively promote international cooperation. The objective is to promote a “community of shared future.” President Xi, in his keynote speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, noted that “as long as we keep to the goal of building a community of shared future and work together to fulfill our responsibilities and overcome difficulties, we will be able to create a better world and enabling better lives for our peoples.”
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The vision for a “community of shared future” is the culmination of President Xi’s ideas on reforming and improving the existing international order. Special consideration was given to developments in the 21st century and their impact on international relations. It also represents an effort to search for an answer to such big questions as to where mankind is heading against the backdrop of a changing global landscape and the need to improve global governance. The post-World War II world has in general been one of peace and prosperity, primarily due to the formation of the international order and the spread of economic globalization. However, the existing international order has been found wanting in the face of ever increasing global challenges and the growing diversity of the international players. Confronted with heightened risks and worldwide insecurity, there is the danger of global development being disrupted and thrown off track and all these highlight the urgent need for innovation and reform of the current international order.
The international order which China attaches itself to is the framework centered on the United Nations (UN) and its institutions, including the World Trade Organization and the World Bank. This order was created by the victors of World War II as a safeguard for an ideal world of nation states, and a “world government” built on multilateralism. It represented historic progress for humanity, by incorporating international relations into a framework of rules and putting world finance, trade, and development under universally recognized rules of governance. The Western developed countries have played a major role in designing and building this order.
However, although the Western world is committed to this UN-centric international order, it has not confined itself to this framework. After emerging victorious at the end of the Cold War, the United States crowned itself as the world leader and has tried to extend the Western order to be the new world order. The American version of world order does overlap the UN led international order; however, it goes beyond it. For example, it pursues security through U.S.-led military coalitions, and puts its members’ security interests above those of non-member countries. Politically, it seeks to transform non-Western countries to a Western political system and set of values with evangelical zeal. When addressing world or regional issues, they focused on pursuing their own interests, using the UN framework if it meets their needs, and if not, they take unilateral actions, some of which led to a succession of blunders, leaving ensuing turbulence for the rest of the world to deal with.
Since replacing the former Republic of China government at the UN, the People’s Republic of China has been an active supporter and participant in the UN-led international order. China agrees with, and is fully committed to, economic globalization and has complied with the rules that have been governing world trade and the financial functions. It has required painful adjustments for China to adapt to the trend of economic globalization, but this country has pushed forward and thus has been rewarded with the benefits of faster integration into the world economy. However, on security, China has been ostracized by the Western military coalition, with its values dismissed as being “alien” to the U.S.-led world order. To safeguard its own security and stability, China has been wary of the political and security agenda promoted by the West. However, over recent years, its growing strength has given China more authority and influence internationally, enabling China to join the efforts promoting more balanced global development through long overdue reforms and improvements. However, this has caused unfounded suspicion by some, that China’s departure from its longtime passive posture is a sign of it challenging the U.S.-led world order.
World history shows that order does not evolve in a linear way. Over time, old orders have given way to new ones due to clashes among major powers or through the decline of the superior power. A successful order should be able to accommodate the growing interests of all its members. The current international order, although imperfect in its efficiency and execution, is the closest to fairness that mankind has achieved. It does however, need to be improved, using the wisdom and drive of all its members to bring about change. China has reaffirmed that it has no intention of creating a parallel order, but rather, it would like to see “a world of nations” under the same roof, big enough to house all countries. The proposition of a “community of shared future” best expresses this ideal, as it celebrates diversity, inclusiveness and respects the legitimate interests and values of nations, regardless of their social systems or their levels of development. In this new round of changes, it is important not only to carry on the traditional framework but also to modernize the existing order and systems by developing concepts using the latest trends, while ensuring the changes are not only attractive to all but are practical, viable, and resilient. While not only serving as a guideline for China’s diplomatic endeavor, it also serves the efforts of the international community to meet challenges, handle crises and solve problems. According to President Xi’s ideas, there can be three pillars underpinning this community: cooperative security, common development, and political inclusiveness.
Pursuing Cooperative Security Through Consultation and Collaboration
Cooperative security originates from China’s traditional concepts of security, with its long-held beliefs in stability, restrained expansionism, and political concepts based on morality and justice. This kind of idea has deep root in China’s traditional strategic thinking, i.e. “caring about the well-being of all under heaven,” “respecting peace and stability,” “placing defense over offense,” “balanced use of force and words,” and “exhausting peaceful means before resorting to force.” Today, China’s diplomacy champions its fundamental interests and seeks to handle security issues through consultation and cooperation. When the use of force becomes unavoidable, it needs to be justifiable and legitimate.
Cooperative security is also a practical response in an increasingly complex global security environment. We are in an era of unprecedentedly diverse security challenges. As civilization advances, our shared interests grow and our multilateral security mechanisms become more mature, resulting in the risk of conventional conflicts or even war between major powers or blocs are generally being kept under control. However, “invisible but formidable” forces like terrorism and cyber crime are lurking across borders, disrupting countries’ traditional security and overwhelming the existing international mechanisms. As security challenges begin to transcend national boundaries and spread across the world in a way as yet unseen, no single country, however powerful, can tackle them alone. Therefore, we may need to go beyond the traditional notions of security and grow out of the zero-sum mentality of the Cold War and pursue cooperative security through collaboration for the sake of long term world cooperation, stability and peace.
The concept of cooperative security is China’s answer to the U.S.-led “collective security” mechanism, a term coined during World War I, and widely and effectively applied to strengthen the security and defense of the allies during World War II. However, collective security is essentially locked into a zero-sum mentality. Since it pursues an unlimited expansion of its own absolute security, at the price of undermining or even destroying that of non-member countries, collective security therefore cannot provide overall global security. There is another disadvantage of this mechanism. Through alliance arrangements, one country’s security interests and foreign policies are bound up with those of others, leaving each less scope to make independent decisions. Cooperative security is a more realistic vision than collective security as it avoids the old-fashioned friend-or-foe distinction of the world and is oriented toward the greater goal of protecting the security and interests of all. Such an approach marks an important step forward in the world security thinking.
Undoubtedly, Northeast Asia is the test ground for cooperative security in the Asia-Pacific. The Korean nuclear issue had remained unresolved for decades as deep rooted mistrust between the United States and North Korea hampered comprehensive implementation of the agreements reached in previous rounds of multilateral negotiations. North Korea has kept carrying out nuclear and missile tests, while the United States and the South Korea, for several years in a row, staged large-scale joint military exercises on the peninsula. Such mutual provocation has spiraled into a vicious circle, pushing the region to the brink of chaos and conflicts. To cope with this tough situation, China has proposed the “dual track” and “suspension for suspension” approaches, which call for suspending both North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests and large-scale U.S.-South Korea military exercises, thus allowing all relevant parties returning to the negotiating table.
Simultaneous efforts should be made to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and establish a peace-making mechanism, so as to address the concerns of all relevant parties in a fair and non-discriminatory manner and eventually tackle the security issue at its roots. In other words, the purpose of these approaches is to first break the current security deadlock, and then try to find a way to achieve common security. To terminate the on-and-off Korean Peninsula crisis, we should now encourage all relevant parties to work together under the same cooperation and security framework, while ensuring stability through diplomatic efforts. We should urge North Korea to halt its nuclear program, and at the same time, by mobilizing economic resources and applying bilateral and multilateral means, try to make the regime pay more attention to improving citizens’ livelihood and joining regional cooperation programs. Under today’s new circumstances, a new version of Northeast Asian cooperation scheme is needed, and shared development should be the new pathway toward solving the security issue.
The Belt and Road Initiative: Promoting Common Development
Development helps in reinforcing security. It is unimaginable that long term stability can be achieved in a country or region if it is deeply mired in poverty. Also, peace can be shaky in a socioeconomically unbalanced country or region, where wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few. Lessons from history show that unbalanced development provides a breeding ground for extremist ideologies. The vision of creating a “community of shared future” encourages global and regional cooperation to help both developing countries, and countries with higher levels of development to provide public goods and to narrow the North-South gap and regional imbalances. It is hoped that wider development can generate new impetus to increase inclusive and sustainable global economic growth.
The central and southern subcontinent of the vast Eurasian region, once home to splendid ancient civilizations, have now become less or underdeveloped areas. For years, these areas have received considerable attention from international institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Asian Development Bank. However, the economic assistance has been characterized by high political thresholds, low approval rates, and limited resources, resulting in an inability to address the immediate needs or the underlying problems in the area. Following the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative and the subsequent establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, China has implemented its multi-faceted free trade strategy with a focus on neighboring areas, and has provided new public goods to the international community, and specifically to the developing countries in the Eurasian region. At a conference on the Belt and Road Initiative in August 2016, President Xi further explained that under this initiative, efforts will be made to build transnational connectivity, enhance collaboration in trade and investment, and facilitate cooperation to improve productive capacity and create new demands, all of which should contribute to the rebalancing of the global economy.
According to a rough estimate by Chinese government agencies, the Belt and Road Initiative covers more than 60 countries and around 4.4 billion people, or 63 percent of the world’s population, but only 29 percent of the global GDP, or $23 trillion, and a quarter of the world’s trade volume. Against the backdrop of a prolonged global economic downturn, if China’s Belt and Road Initiative can help meet the needs for infrastructure improvement and promote industrialization and modernization in the region and beyond. It may also allow the huge potential of these countries to come into play and stimulate new growth for the world economy. As predicted by the U.S. consulting firm Mckinsey & Company, the countries along the Belt and Road are expected to contribute over 80 percent of global economic growth by 2050. China intends to turn into practice the vision for common development and a “community of shared future” through the Belt and Road Initiative, working together with all countries to address the issues of uneven development and stimulate new prosperity within the Eurasian region.
Political Inclusiveness Requires Mutual Tolerance and Acceptance of Differing Views
To realize the “community of shared future,” we need political inclusiveness. The world comprises many diverse countries, each following an ever evolving path practical and unique for themselves, the one which they believe will ultimately lead them through to successful development. As yet, there is no single model that has proved to be successfully and universally applicable. The political principle of a “community of shared future” lies in its open approach and its acceptance of diversity, allowing all nations to follow different paths in pursuit of the same goals – highly evolved civilization, democracy, and prosperity.
Mutual respect is essential when talking about country relationships. Only through respect and a willingness to communicate can they learn from one another and efficiently play their part in the development of human civilization. In recent years, China has been learning from other countries while exploring its own path out of the problems of poverty and weakness, through trial and error. From the experience drawn from setbacks and successes, we realize that it is important to have the courage to learn from others, while upholding our own principles and adhering to our own path. China should continue to improve its governance and build its strength. As China is growing stronger, it would be able to do more for the world and join effort with other countries to build a “community of shared future.”
This piece was adapated from a Chinese-language article published in People’s Daily.
Madame Fu Ying is chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress of China.