The term in part was first introduced in official lexicon during the 17th Communist Party of China (CPC) National Congress in 2007. Initially, its conception expressed the Chinese Government's belief in the common destiny of the mainland and Taiwan. However, by the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, the term was broadened conceptually to express its current global perspective and under President Xi's leadership, the term was included in the preamble of the Chinese Constitution in 2018. The constitutional reference provides the definitive context, and thus the passage in which it appears deserves full citation:
"The achievements of China's revolution, development and reform would have been impossible without the support of the world's people. The future of China is closely bound up with the future of the world. China pursues an independent foreign policy, observes the five principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence, keeps to a path of peaceful development, follows a mutually beneficial strategy of opening up, works to develop diplomatic relations and economic and cultural exchanges with other countries, and promotes the building of a human community with a shared future. China consistently opposes imperialism, hegemonism and colonialism, works to strengthen its solidarity with the people of all other countries, supports oppressed peoples and other developing countries in their just struggles to win and safeguard their independence and develop their economies, and strives to safeguard world peace and promote the cause of human progress."
As the idea has gained increased currency given President Xi's frequent usage, as it's been linked with his historicist description of a "new era" requiring the development of China's "major-country diplomacy," scholars have cited the term as an indication of China's shift from a more nation-centered to a more global-oriented foreign policy.
This interpretation coincides with the increasing globalism of major-country diplomacy in the Xi era and is consistent with the emergence of the Belt and Road, Global Development, Global Security and Global Civilizations initiatives. It likewise accommodates China's call for a genuine or "true" multilateralism, one that promotes the reinforcement, and if necessary the reform, of international organizations to ensure better global governance to support sovereignty, win-win development and peace in the international system.
More simply, however, the term can be understood as depicting a basic fact: We already experience and will continue to live in a highly globalized society, one in which different civilizations and a multitude of nations are interconnected through shared security, economic, environmental and health concerns. In this sense, the expression is consistent with reality—the reality of the present and the inescapable reality of the future. This reality is demonstrated presently by the shared fate associated with climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and global susceptibility to economic downturns and conflicts, like the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. In the future, our fate will be even more shared—whether we like it or not. No amount of isolationism, decoupling, hegemony or zero-sum foreign policy will change this. In fact, the opposite is true—such thinking and behavior would only make us more vulnerable to a darker fate.
Consequently, the term can be understood as a non-normative acknowledgement of a reality that already exists and will continue to exist. On the one hand, this indicates the term is merely factual and non-ideological. On the other hand, there are some nations in the world that resist this reality, sometimes in their official ideologies but above all in their actual policymaking. They pursue zero-sum and even Cold War strategies like trade wars, decoupling, containment, small bloc building, the proliferation of arms and weapons of mass destruction, proxy wars and direct confrontation. They exploit and suppress developing countries and actively deprive them of vital public goods, like vaccines, whether serving narrow national interests at others' expense or through punitive policies like unilateral sanctions.
As a result, such actors tend to characterize the Chinese expression as an ideology. They depict it in damaging and sometimes demonizing ways, turning its meaning upside down. They do this by either denying reality as it exists presently or by trying to induce fear of this reality. They project their own worst images and practices, asserting China wants to displace the U.S. as a global hegemon, and that China is advancing a global communist conspiracy. This is quite laughable and yet, it has induced fear among those vulnerable to such lies.
Ironically, some of these liars suggest they are the champions of international democracy and they stand as a bulwark against "authoritarian" regimes. And yet, they do not practice democracy in international affairs and their record of democratic achievements in their own countries is arguably weaker that democratic achievements in China.
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang said following President Xi's recent visit to Russia, "The principal contradiction in today's world is not at all a so-called democracy vs. autocracy played up by a handful of countries, but a struggle between development and containment of development, and between global justice and power politics."
Nevertheless, the naysayers still deny this reality. They still aim in the name of democracy, a weaponized pseudo-democracy, for an alternative future, one that favors one or a few nations over all others. They not only oppose genuine multilateralism; some even seem to imagine a world in which various countries cease to exist in meaningful ways. They like to imagine the dissolution of Russia. They fantasize about the "coming collapse of China," the end of Iran, and so on. They plot for a future of war and want to reinvigorate and continue 300 years of Western hegemony.
And yet China, Russia, Iran and others represent civilizations that have endured in one form or another for millennia, and will continue to endure and advance whether others like it or not. The new era, a post-hegemony era, of a global future will advance or humanity risks ceasing to exist. This is reality. There is no other way forward, and thankfully so.
The author is a professor of politics and international relations at East China Normal University and a senior research fellow with the Institute for the Development of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics at Southeast University
Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon
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