Discussing Changes in the International Order

--- Speech at the luncheon of the Seventh World Peace Forum
Beijing, July 2018

By Fu Ying 

Academics  are currently debating about the future course of the world order. Will the world head toward a new Cold War? What path will China take? As we reach the end of the second decade of the 21st century, the so-called trade war between China and the US and its overall impact is mirroring the ups and downs in the international situation, and the anxieties brought about by the behavior of the only world superpower, the United States. 

However, humanity has developed into such a civilized state that common sense tells us we should not be pessimistic about the future. At the 7th World Peace Forum hosted by Qinghua University, talk turned to the current and future international situation and some of the views are worth noting.

First, that global political power is more fragmented than ever  before. It is  widely acknowledged that in the future no one major power can dominate the world and that even the most powerful country would need to cooperate with other nations in order to deal with international affairs. At the same time, national power is being eroded by the emergence of international organizations and other non-state entities. The international order, with the United Nations and its related institutions at the center, while flawed, is still widely supported by the international community.

Second, economic globalization is unlikely to reverse. Although anti-globalization and protectionism are on the rise, it is undeniable that globalization has benefited most countries by boosting the world economy and advancing technology and civilization. Since the 1980s, the size of the world economy has tripled, allowing billions of people to improve their conditions  and is why most economies prefer the direction of free trade. 

What comes with this process is the expansion of people-to-people exchanges. According to OECD statistics, five million students are studying outside of their own countries. They and the majority of young people will not support dividing the world again.

Third, world peace is likely to be sustained. Despite the complex international security situation, that encompasses inter-country disputes, the threat of nuclear proliferation and the many new challenges in the areas of space science and cyber security, no country wants to settle problems with a full-scale war. 

Diplomacy continues to play the central role in addressing differences, as countries choose negotiation  and restraint when resolving disputes. As Chinese President Xi Jinping said at the Boao Forum for Asia in April, “The trend of peaceful cooperation is rolling forward. Peace and development are the common aspirations of the people of all countries in the world.”

Observers are thinking about what the next world order might be. The current order cannot cope with all the problems the world is now facing, and the new order is not yet in sight. The reality is that many countries, including the US, China, Russia and some European nations, are all facing internal challenges to different degrees and need to concentrate on solving their own problems. However, some international issues have also resulted from the spillover of domestic problems. 

We are also seeing contradictions and differences among major powers becoming more prominent as the US now emphasizes competition and downplays cooperation.

In such a situation, which path should China take? China’s foreign policies serve the country’s development strategies and aim at maintaining world peace while promoting international cooperation. It could be predicted that China would not change its basic foreign policies, nor its US policy, as it is an important part of its overall foreign policy.

It looks like the US is half way through adjusting its China policies. Although the consensus seems to have been reached over the need to change their policy towards China, it is not clear in which direction it would go. The US’s formulation of its future policy towards China will, to some extent, be influenced by the interactions between Beijing and Washington. It will also be affected by the general developments across the world and the US’s interactions with other countries. If China sticks to its principles and meets challenges and solves problems  in a constructive manner, it may have a positive effect on the US’s China policy direction.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening-up. The country’s rapidly growing economy has benefited greatly from its consistent reform and improvements to the domestic market environment, as well as continuing its efforts to open China even more to the outside world. As a matter of fact, some of the requirements recently proposed by the US and the EU about China’s trade and economy also match Beijing’s goal of reform. One requirement relates to intellectual property protection, which the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) has also had concerns  and has repeatedly revised and improved the Copyright, Trademark and Patent Laws. The State Council and the Supreme People’s Court have also issued corresponding regulations, laws and judicial interpretation, which now form a legal system for intellectual property protection. In 2014, the NPC Standing Committee also decided to establish three separate intellectual property courts in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

International security extends from the internal security of countries. China’s continuous improvements in governance will also provide a solid foundation for cooperation with the US and other nations. China will continue to support and participate in globalization, promote reform of the current order and improve global governance in a candid, pragmatic and open manner. 

The concept of building a community of shared future for mankind, as proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, embodies the great wisdom that is deeply rooted in Chinese culture and   demonstrates our clear political stance. The essence of the proposition is that challenges around the world should be discussed and resolved by countries working together, and that common interests should be maintained by all. It will require countries to work together to achieve this goal, but as the saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

On global security governance, academics at the forum believed that the role of the UN and the Security Council should be respected, but they are insufficient when dealing with all the security issues in today’s world. The US-led security alliance by its nature is exclusive. This results in countries outside the alliance having to consider how to safeguard their own security interests. Take North Korea as an example. When Washington persisted in strengthening the measures to guarantee its alliances security by holding large scale joint military exercises and slapping economic sanctions on Pyongyang, North Korea went further along the path of nuclear and missile development. But when the US expressed a willingness to talk to Pyongyang and seriously considered their security concerns, a silver lining emerged. Although it is difficult to predict how the dialogues between Washington and Pyongyang may go, it is obvious that only a solution that takes the security interests of all sides into account will last. 

Whether to seek common security or to pursue your own absolute security by jeopardizing other’s, is an important choice to make when handling the many kinds of security concerns in the world today. If all parties acknowledge that they need peaceful coexistence, they should look beyond their own interests and build an inclusive security framework for the future. 

The US is increasingly worried that China will threaten its dominance. Beijing is concerned that Washington is trying to contain China’s development. Such misunderstandings are reflected in many issues, including trade. The Chinese people have seen that US companies are making huge profits from China. But Americans believe that they are being taken advantage of when trading with China. The White House has raised tariffs on Chinese products, which is seen by the Chinese as bullying. We need to pay attention to why the two sides are seeing the same issue so differently. It is not  only with the US where we see these twisted perceptions. It is important that China examines carefully such issues and address them quickly to avoid a new accumulation of misunderstanding which can only hamper our relationships. 

The world is expecting China to contribute more but is apprehensive. This is made more difficult as the Chinese people are unaccustomed to explaining themselves and information about China in international databases is limited. For example, in overseas schools, libraries and bookstores, there are very few publications from the Chinese mainland. 

The Chinese are increasingly aware of their country’s emergence and their growing international responsibilities. They need to learn and raise awareness by improving their capability to communicate with the outside world. Without prompt explanation using effective methods and techniques, misunderstandings  will prevail. As one expert said at the Tsinghua forum; the Chinese must learn to persuade others. 

Fu Ying is China’s former Vice Foreign Minister, Vice Chairperson of the NPC Foreign Affairs Committee, and Chairperson of the Academic Committee of National Institute of International Strategy at the CASS.