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Community of common destiny offers path to coexistence

By Wang Xinsheng | 2016-03-23
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

The picture, taken on Sept. 22, 2015 ahead of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly, shows slides projected on the building of the UN headquarters publicizing the Sustainable Development Goals.

 

Since the 18th CPC National Congress, Chinese President Xi Jinping has mentioned the concept of “a community of common destiny” more than 60 times, expressing China’s desire for world peace.
 

The concept represents the ruling party’s basic understanding of the nature of contemporary international relations and its expectations for the future of global development.
 

“In today’s world, countries are interdependent and share a common future. We should renew our commitment to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, build a new type of international relations featuring mutually beneficial cooperation, and create a community of common destiny for mankind,” Xi stressed in a speech  at the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015.
 

Xi’s interpretation of the community of common destiny contains Chinese wisdom. More than just an expression of China’s perspective on international relations, the concept also embodies a reflection on world history and a response to the common concerns of mankind in this age, offering a Chinese path to peaceful coexistence.

 

Interdependence
In modern times, the development of capitalism has led to seismic changes, including an explosion of productivity, rapid progress in science and technology, and economic globalization. Starting with the expansion of commercial capital, the current world pattern and its supporting theoretical models were shaped in tandem with the development of capitalism.


The expansion of capital provides an inexhaustible impetus for the growth of production, the progress of science and technology and the diversification of social life. Within a span of only a hundred years, economic globalization propelled by commercial capital has spread the notions of contracts and equal exchange, changing the global landscape as well as the way modern people make sense of the world.
 

Capital is transnational in essence. The development of capitalism prompted countries around the world to acknowledge the legitimacy of other countries’ interests as the starting point for coexistence. State sovereignty, territory and independence in the modern sense were thus established.
 

However, the profit-seeking nature of capital means that it will inevitably give rise to differences and disparities rather than unity and equity because only in this way can it be inexhaustible and extend its presence across the globe.
 

Capital-led globalization has not only brought the modern modes of economic contact into being but also shaped modern social life and thinking patterns. This type of economic contact impacts the politics, economy, culture and society of whatever country it reaches.


In the early modern period, Western countries took the lead in modernization. They profited from economically backward states and exerted control over them, building colonies around the world and spreading Western culture, politics and lifestyles. During this historical process, different countries became bonded by capital, relying on each other in the connected modern world.

 

Confrontation, conflict
However, the modern world has yet to achieve peace and prosperity. On the contrary, modern history has been punctuated by a succession of wars and crises. The impetus provided by commercial capital alone is blind and destructive. It has failed to build a harmonious world order and will ultimately lead humanity to destruction.


After two devastating world wars, people have become increasingly aware of the necessity to establish an effective mechanism for international cooperation to prevent the escalation of conflict. The establishment of the United Nations in 1945 was a reasonable effort to this end.
 

Nonetheless, the Cold War followed. In the polarized, conflicting pattern dominated by the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, the new international order supplanted the old, and a clash of ideologies replaced imperialist conflict, dashing the hope of world peace once again. During this period, the nuclear arms race pushed  humanity to the edge of total destruction for the first time.
 

After the Cold War ended, the pattern of international relations took the shape of a unipolar hegemony under the United States. This new order likewise failed to bring stability and peace to the world, and the threat of regional conflicts persists. Now the US’s dominance has proven to be unsustainable. Amid conflict and turmoil, a multipolar world is in the making.
 

Imbalanced interests will necessarily bring about confrontation and conflict in the world pattern regardless of its shape. More importantly, when balancing interests, zero-sum logic will result in an unstable world and thwart the goal of sustainable peace.
 

In the contemporary age, humanity cannot ever be completely free from interest imbalances and conflicts. However, neither can it afford to continue playing the zero-sum game. Hence, a consensus has been reached to seek mutual benefit amid cooperation and settle differences through dialogue to build a community of common destiny.

 

Chinese wisdom
In this context, such notions as “harmony amid diversity” and “harmony is most precious,” which come from Chinese civilization, are playing an increasingly important role in shaping a new international consensus. As China grows in strength, it is drawing upon Chinese wisdom to shed light on a path toward coexistence.


“Harmony” is a basic element in Chinese culture. There is an ancient Chinese saying: “All living things are nourished without injuring one another. All roads run parallel without interfering with one another.” This is what “harmony amid diversity” is about.
 

In terms of the relationship between mankind and nature, “harmony” stresses respecting the balance of nature to enable coexistence between the two. With regard to cultural exchange, the concept values inclusiveness, integration and complementation, so that different cultures can develop by means of exchange. In international relations, “harmony” emphasizes neighborly principles.
 

In his speech at the UNESCO headquarters in spring 2014, Xi said: “Civilizations are inclusive, and such inclusiveness has given exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations the needed drive to move forward. … All achievements of civilizations deserve our respect and must be treasured. History also tells us that only by interacting with and learning from others can a civilization enjoy full vitality. If all civilizations can uphold inclusiveness, the so-called ‘clash of civilizations’ will be out of the question, and the harmony of civilizations will become reality.”
 

Xi’s statement offers unique insight into the relations among world civilizations based on Chinese wisdom and also the rising power’s interpretation of the new model of global cooperation.

 

Realistic ideal
The modern age is one in which humans have the strongest power to change nature, but it is also an age that has witnessed the most tense relationship between man and nature. Humans have an impact on nature wherever they go, and upsetting the balance within the natural environment is an existential threat.


Moreover, this is an era of economic globalization, cultural diversification and world multipolarization. Cultures, countries and systems are more evidently different than at any other time in history, and clashes between them have a greater potential to lead to consequences that threaten the very existence of mankind. Climate change, environmental crisis, transnational crimes, financial crisis and cybersecurity have become new problems facing today’s international community. In this age, it is more necessary than ever to find a way out for human coexistence.
 

The history of human civilization is full of conflict and war, but it does not mean the community of common destiny is an unattainable dream. History is created by humanity under the guidance of ideals. The history of world civilizations is also a record of mankind going from isolation to connection, from closure to opening up and from difference and opposition to cooperation and integration.
 

In the course of mankind’s development, there has never been a wall separating reality from ideals. To build a community of common destiny is to seek a way for human coexistence and avoid human destruction amid feuding. In this regard, the building of the community must be grounded in reality.


Globalization promoted by the market economy has made countries interconnected. They must develop by depending on other countries. Undoubtedly, this is not out of the motive of altruism or the ideal of great human harmony. Rather, its starting point is realistic national interest.


However, the building of a community of common destiny must also be based on a rational understanding of equality and justice. All countries around the world should go beyond their own interests and fulfill their international responsibilities and obligations consciously rather than seeing the community of common destiny as a short cut.
 

The community of common destiny is rooted in human nature and the pursuit of fairness, justice, and other lofty values that are inherent in mankind’s “kind consciousness.” Only by starting from such higher human rationality can the community of common destiny be realized.

 

Wang Xinsheng is a professor and director of the School of Philosophy at Nankai University.