The Basic Values of Common Human Destiny

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2013-08-20 15:03
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The report to the Eighteenth National Congress of the CPC called for greater awareness that human beings are brought together by a common destiny. This is because there is only one earth, and the countries of the world must share it. In his first meeting with the foreign personages after becoming General Secretary of the CPC, Xi Jinping stated that the international community is increasingly becoming a “community of shared destiny,” in which all countries are inter-linked. Faced with a complex global economic situation and a range of international challenges, no country will be able to manage without the help of the others. The “community of shared destiny” is a new concept pertaining to human society that the Chinese government has stressed repeatedly in recent years. In 2011, the white paper China’s Peaceful Development proposed efforts to seek new meaning in the common interests and common values of humankind from the new perspective of a “community of shared destiny.”

The constant emergence of non-traditional security threats at present is posing a serious challenge to the international order and the survival of humankind. These threats include food security, resource shortages, climate change, cyber-attacks, the population explosion, environmental pollution, epidemic diseases, and cross-border crime. The fact is we are already living in a community of shared destiny, regardless of our country of residence, our beliefs, and whether or not we are willing. At the same time, a set of global values whose aim is to respond to the common challenges of humankind has already begun to take shape. Gradually becoming an international consensus, these global values include an outlook on international power, which regards countries as being mutually-dependent, and outlooks on common interests, sustainable development, and global governance.

I. An outlook on international power

For centuries, different nations and blocs of nations have engaged in countless wars and conflicts in contention of international power. However, with the deepening of economic globalization, and the increasing flow of capital, technology, information and personnel between different territories, the countries of the world have found themselves in a state of interdependence. Under such circumstances, the ability of any one country to achieve its economic objectives is closely connected to economic fluctuations that occur in other countries. This mutual dependence has given rise to a bond of interest between countries. Any country hoping to satisfy its own interests will be required to safeguard this bond. This is what we refer to as the existing international order. Under this order, the distribution of power between countries does not have to be realized through extreme means such as war, as it was done in the past. At the same time, economic interdependence between countries is conducive to the easing of international tensions. The international order allows all countries to maintain and normalize their relations of interdependence through the international system and its mechanisms, thereby safeguarding their common interests.

UN General Assembly President John W. Ashe (second on the left) calls on members of the UN to work together for sustainable development during a press conference at UN Headquarters in New York on June 21, 2013. This was John Ashe’s first press conference after being elected as the President of the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly. / Photo by Xinhua reporter Niu Xiaolei

At present, a general consensus has gradually formed around the view that human society is an interdependent community. Major international events such as the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and the international financial crisis of 2008 have enabled interdependence to become a much more striking subject. Under the backdrop of economic globalization, crisis in any one country can spread rapidly throughout the globe via global mechanisms, putting the entire international community in danger. When confronted by such crisis, the international community has no alternative but to work together to overcome times of difficulty. Following the outbreak of the Asian Financial Crisis, China assisted ASEAN countries by maintaining a firm grip over its own macroeconomic policies. Moreover, the international financial crisis of 2008 gave rise to the G20 mechanism. These are both examples of how interdependent countries can respond to international crisis through the building of international mechanisms. Supposing that these countries had not cooperated with one another, but instead chosen to do harm to their neighbors and shift the crisis onto others, it is totally conceivable that the crisis would have played out like those of the 1920s and 1930s, leading to conflict and even war, and spelling disaster for human society.

II. An outlook on common interests

The concept of “common interests” has not always been around. During the period of absolute monarchy in Europe, the interests of the state equated to the personal interests of monarchs or those of their families. In the 20th century, interest relationships in the international community were once described as a zero-sum game, in which the interests of different countries were mutually exclusive. As a result, the occurrence of wars triggered by the scramble for interests was unavoidable.

Economic globalization has prompted people to rethink traditional views on national interests. The transmission mechanisms of globalization traverse vast distances in mere seconds, turning the planet into a “global village.” The deep integration of interests between countries has turned each country into a link in a chain of common interests. A problem with any link in this chain could potentially lead to a rupture in the global chain of interests. For example, a food security crisis in one country could quite easily cause an outpour of hungry masses into other countries. In such cases, advances in the means of transportation would make such a flow of refugees possible, whereas progress in humanitarian thinking would place huge moral pressure on any country refusing to allow refugees to cross their borders. The Internet has brought the countries of the world closer together than ever before. A cyber-attack launched from any given point in the world may not seem like much, but in fact such an attack could potentially cause more social and economic damage to the country on the receiving end than war. Issues such as the melting of glaciers, abnormal rainfalls, and rising sea levels brought by climatic change may not only spell disaster for small island nations, but could also pose a huge threat to dozens of the world’s developed coastal cities. Resource and energy shortages have a bearing on the continuation of human civilization. Moreover, environmental pollution has led to the frequent emergence and transmission of strange new diseases across national borders. In the face of mounting global problems, no country will be able to manage by going it alone. Any country that wishes to develop must allow other countries to develop as well. Likewise, any country that wants to guarantee its own national security and wellness must allow other countries to enjoy national security and wellness as well. 

Under such a backdrop, people have acquired a new understanding of common interests. Since we are living in a “global village,” we are not just citizens of various countries, but also citizens of the world, and global interests are also our own interests. Therefore, by taking measures that are conducive to global interests, a country is also serving its own interests.

The Chinese government has adjusted its relationship with the international system since the launch of the reform and opening up drive. Attaching increasing levels of importance to the common interests of humankind, China has turned itself into a “stakeholder” in the international community. This has also been echoed in the report to the Eighteenth National Congress of the CPC, which stresses that China will continue to integrate the interests of the Chinese people with the common interests of people from all countries, adopt a more active stance in international affairs, play its due role as a major country with a strong sense of responsibility, and mount joint responses to global challenges. 

III. An outlook on sustainable development 

Since the Industrial Revolution, humankind’s ability to develop and utilize natural resources has increased enormously. However, the environmental pollution that this has caused, together with a succession of extreme accidents, has been devastating to humankind. Serious incidents have included the photochemical smog incident of Los Angeles in 1943; the London smog of 1952; the Minimata Bay incident of Japan in the 1950s; and the 1984 Bhopal gas leak in India. All of these incidents saw the spread of pollution over a large area as well as significant human sickness and loss of life. As such, they have urged a great deal of reflection.

In 1972, the Club of Rome, a global think tank noted for its study of environmental and developmental issues, published a report entitled The Limits of Growth. The report created significant international controversy with the statement that: “If the present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years.” The same year, at a United Nations symposium on the human environment in Stockholm, the concept of “sustainable development” was introduced for the first time. In 1983, the World Environment and Development Committee (WEDC) was founded under the United Nations to conduct specialized research into environmental and developmental issues. The WEDC published the report Our Common Future in 1987, officially defining sustainable development as development that can meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Since then, sustainable development has become a consensus in the international community.

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), which was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, saw the passage of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Also known as the Earth Charter, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development focused on issues pertaining to sustainable development. In 2002, the United Nations held the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in South Africa, during which the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation was passed. In 2012, the heads of state of the world’s nations once again gathered in Rio de Janeiro to attend a UN summit on sustainable development. At the summit, the attending leaders reiterated their country’s commitment to sustainable development, discussed achievements and shortcomings in this regard, and issued an outcome document entitled The Future We Want. 

China has been at all major international conferences on sustainable development since the Stockholm Conference of 1972. In addition to playing a constructive role in the conceptualization of sustainable development, it has also been actively involved in systems building and development aid with regard to sustainable development. In 1994, China published China’s Agenda 21—White Paper on China’s Population, Environment and Development in the 21st Century. In 1996, sustainable development was formally established as one of China’s basic development strategies. At the Rio summit on sustainable development in 2012, Wen Jiabao, then Premier of China’s State Council, told the summit that China had sustained an average growth rate of 9.9% per year for 34 years, reducing the number of Chinese people living in poverty by more than 200 million, and thereby becoming the first country in the world to realize the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target of cutting poverty by half. He told the summit that China supported one fifth of the world’s population with less than 10% of the world’s arable land and 28% of global water resources per capita. In addition, he also pointed out that China’s energy consumption per unit GDP had been cut by about 21% and that the total discharge of major pollutants had been cut by about 15% over the six years preceding the summit. By the end of 2011, China had exempted about 30 billion yuan in debts for 50 heavily indebted and underdeveloped countries. In addition, it had applied a zero-tariff policy for 60% of products imported from 38 of the world’s least developed countries, and provided more than 100 billion yuan in concessional loans to other developing countries. These figures offer indication that sustainable development has become more than just an idea. They are testament not only to the fact that the Chinese government has made sustainable development a specific program of action, but also to how hugely successful these efforts have been. 

IV. An outlook on global governance

In the 1990s, a commission on global governance composed of 28 internationally renowned figures was founded with the support of the United Nations. The commission produced a report entitled Our Global Neighborhood as the United Nations celebrated its 50th anniversary. The report’s definition of global governance has been widely accepted by the international community.

Owing to the diversification of international actors due to globalization, the resolution of global issues has become a process involving the common participation and interaction of governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-government organizations, and transnational companies. This is the core idea behind the theory of global governance. An important means of realizing this process is to strengthen international standards and international mechanisms, so as to form a binding “global mechanism” with the capacity to promote ethical norms and resolve global issues. An example of this is the G20. Emerging in the wake of the international financial crisis of 2008, the G20 has been able to coordinate the various member countries in their response to the crisis, thereby preventing the world economy from descending into a crisis of similar proportions to the global depression of the 1920s and 1930s. At present, there are numerous active mechanisms of coordination and consultation in the world. These mechanisms are pushing the international community in the direction of greater institutionalization and greater standardization.

At present there are still disputes over global governance, such as how the relationship between global governance and national sovereignty should be addressed. Despite this, however, China’s participation in global governance will serve to push global governance towards greater fairness and equitability, and towards inclusive development, the sharing of powers, and the division of responsibilities. For China, the reverse pressure that comes from global governance may be capitalized upon to promote the country’s domestic reforms. At the same time, China may also be able to obtain more opportunities for peaceful development through its participation in global governance. If that were the case, China’s peaceful development could again become a positive driving force behind world development. The report to the Eighteenth National Congress of the CPC gave a summary of China’s diplomatic achievements over the past decade. It reads, “We have increased exchanges and cooperation with other countries. We have promoted reform in global governance, enhanced world peace and development, secured more representation and a greater say for China in international affairs, and created favorable international conditions for China’s reform and development.” In addition, the report also stressed the need for China to participate in multilateral affairs, mentioning in particular that China should support the United Nations, the G20, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and BRICS, so as to promote the development of an international order and an international system that are more just and equitable.

These outlooks on international power, common interests, sustainable development, and global governance form the basic values for the building of a community of shared destiny for humankind. In fact, the harmonious world that China has proposed is in many ways similar to this set of global values. China’s idea of a harmonious world can be broken down into five aspects: political multi-polarity, economic balance, cultural diversity, mutual trust on security, and environmental sustainability. Political multi-polarity can be understood as having a mutually-binding power framework and a multilateral approach for the resolution of world affairs that exist between the various power centers in an interdependent world. Economic balance refers to the idea that genuine world development only happens when both developed and developing countries are able to enjoy development. Therefore, the resolution of developmental issues is in the common human interest. Cultural diversity is about maintaining the pluralism of culture and the vitality of human thought in order to provide more answers for the resolution of global issues. Mutual trust on security is the view that security is common, and that one’s own security is only possible when others enjoy security. Thus, the effective means of ensuring security is not cold-war era alliance plus deterrence, but a new approach to security founded on mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, and cooperation. Lastly, environmental sustainability means that all countries must join hands and work together to implement the concept of sustainable development in practice.

At present, the various values that exist in the international community are still primarily there to serve the actual interests of various different countries. For this reason, the building of a community of shared destiny for all humankind will be a long, complicated, and tortuous process. If the politicians of the world are genuinely able to approach issues in consideration of the long-term interests of humankind, and refrain from founding the policies they make on short-term political needs in their respective countries, there is absolutely no reason why a more advanced community of shared destiny heading towards prosperity for all cannot be achieved.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.4, 2013)

Author: Director of the China Institute of International Studies

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