The Big Ideas

Financial Times

Financial Times

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'Xi calls for new world order (again)'
'Xi calls for new world order (again)'
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April 20, 2021
BIG IDEA | ‘We must not let the rules set by one or a few countries be imposed on others, or allow unilateralism pursued by certain countries [read America] to set the pace for the whole world.’

Read Xi Jinping's full speech.

On April 20, General Secretary Xi Jinping gave his keynote speech at the annual Boao Forum, China’s answer to Davos.

  • The Forum’s theme this year was: ‘A World in Change: Join Hands to Strengthen Global Governance and Advance Belt and Road Cooperation.’

Mr. Xi’s speech was titled: ‘Pulling Together Through Adversity and Toward a Shared Future for All.’

  • In this speech, reports the Financial Times, he called for ‘a new world order, launching a veiled attack against US global leadership.’

In democracies, we take the post-World War II liberal world order for granted. As the cliché goes, it’s like the air we breathe.

  • And, like air, we will only notice it when it’s gone or when it changes enough for us to gasp.

The greatest challenge to the liberal order was the Soviet Union

  • The USSR believed, with history on its side, it would eventually bring all nations to socialism and then complete communism, all under its leadership.

The greatest challenge, that is, until today with Xi Jinping’s China.

  • Unlike the utopian Soviet vision, Xi strives to create a world order compatible with China and its objectives.
  • But also unlike the Soviet Union, which was sort of hermetically sealed from the day-to-day lives of democratic nations, China is in many ways pervasive in those nations.
  • And that makes its attempt to reshape the world order potentially more effective – and threatening.

Mr. Xi, in his speech, once again laid out China’s vision.

Replacing a system with a single hegemon [read America], Xi proposes a system administered in part by international organizations and underpinned by rule of law:

  • ‘We need to safeguard the UN-centered international system, preserve the international order underpinned by international law, and uphold the multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organization at its core.’

In this system, all countries have a say in the construction of the world order:

  • ‘In state-to-state relations, the principles of equality, mutual respect and mutual trust must be put front and center.’
  • ‘World affairs should be handled through extensive consultation, and the future of the world should be decided by all countries working together.’
  • ‘We must not let the rules set by one or a few countries be imposed on others, or allow unilateralism pursued by certain countries [again read America] to set the pace for the whole world.’
  • ‘What we need in today’s world is justice, not hegemony.’

And in Xi’s world [pay attention America]:

  • ‘Bossing others around or meddling in others’ internal affairs would not get one any support.’

In this new world,

  • ‘China will stay committed to peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit, develop friendship and cooperation with other countries on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence [the Five are mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence; first set forth by China's late Premier Zhou Enlai in negotiations with India in 1953-54.], and promote a new type of international relations.’
  • ‘However strong it may grow, China will never seek hegemony, expansion, or a sphere of influence.’
  • ‘Nor will China ever engage in an arms race.’

Toward these ends, Xi notes:

  • ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has made it all the more clear to people around the world that we must reject the cold-war and zero-sum mentality [listen up America] and oppose a new “Cold War” and ideological confrontation in whatever forms.’

In addition to the reasons above about why China is a greater challenge to the liberal world than the USSR ever was is that Mr. Xi’s vision is attractive, especially to smaller countries.

  • In his world, those countries will be consulted and heard. They will count.

The problem with China, as with the Soviet Union, is its actions belie its words.

  • Ask China’s neighbors along the South China Sea what they think of China's promise to 'never seek hegemony, expansion, or a sphere of influence.’
  • Ask India how these Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence are working out on its border with China.
  • Ask Hong Kong about China’s interpretation of ‘the international order underpinned by international law.’
  • I could go on.

In making the international order fit it, rather than the way around, China is also making the world safe for autocracies by pressing for recognition of an equivalence between democratic and autocratic forms of government.

In a world where the liberal order is being shredded already without any help, the last thing we need is China lending a hand.

For those who don’t think any of this makes any difference, ask yourselves:

  • Would you rather live, do business, make investments within the liberal democratic world order, or in Mr. Xi’s world – not the one he talks about, the one he is actually creating?

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