Voice
COVID-19 crisis shows the importance of a shared-future-for-all philosophy
By Zoon Ahmed Khan  ·  2021-01-18  ·   Source: NO.3 JANUARY 21, 2021

The Pakistani pavilion at the China-ASEAN Expo in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in south China, on November 27, 2020 (XINHUA)

In 2013, when Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed the Belt and Road Initiative, at that time people understood very little about what a shared future for all humanity meant. And they understood even less the vision that sought to unite without unifying, spoke of a moral leadership without moralizing, and conceived of a power based on partnerships and not alliances.

But the global South—countries that had been colonized or marginalized, people and nations that had been told they were in the waiting room of history—were in need of a fresh leadership and ideals. The new concept renewed hope.

Turning point

In the later half of the 20th century, the collective consciousness of developing countries began to awaken since a wave of new nations emerged. What subjugation had justified, from East and Central Asia and Africa to Latin America, was losing conviction. In the past, "civilizing the world" was the argument presented to legitimize subjugation, depicted as a divine mandate. After the two world wars, this power shifted from the European colonizers to the new great power of the 20th century, the United States.

Even though the U.S. seemed diametrically opposed to the principles of colonization, it still adopted a Eurocentric world view and began to export its ideology and institutions forcefully.

Might became right and wars, deaths and unilateral policies followed, creating a situation where a moral leadership was required. China emerged as a promising prospect, and the Belt and Road served to address increasingly pressing needs.

Many countries that suffered from wars and intervention found themselves in a vicious cycle of economic and security challenges, both deeply connected. Wars in regions sparked, sustained or supported by the Pentagon resulted in crises that prevented countries from meeting the growing needs of their people and societies.

The developed countries and global institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund should have been promoting meaningful development and lasting stability. Instead, they made token gestures to maintain an unequal brand of globalization. Political strings were attached to the assistance and investment they provided, which led to a collective voice calling for a change in global governance.

In this context, the Belt and Road, an idea to develop together, decide together, and proceed through mutual consultation and respect, became significant.

The notion of creating opportunities and capitalizing on young and dynamic populations in different regions isn't a new one. However, to put this theory into practice, and take risks to do so, has today become a necessary way forward. Without the inclusion of these dynamic regions, our world cannot truly achieve stability, and globalization cannot reap the fruits of its true potential.

In 2020, our collective experience served as a test of what makes a progressive leadership. As we face the global challenge of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), it has become evident that none of us is safe and well off unless everyone is safe and well off. It is this very concept that is at the heart of the Belt and Road.

Countries that were previously on the receiving end of biased policies and development models found themselves in a new and better position under their partnership with China. The outcome has been development of infrastructure, formulation of clear socioeconomic targets, and prioritization of creating opportunities, a combination of what these countries need and what Chinese enterprises can offer. This is a new concept.

Fundamental change

With a global health pandemic prevailing, the need for mutual assistance and fruitful synergy cannot be direr. This is a time of fundamental change. In this period, when billions of people are suffering from the economic and psychological impacts of the pandemic, China has made it clear that politics is not the way forward.

While certain countries have politicized COVID-19 and attempted to smear China's credibility, China has maintained a dignified and principled stand and helped other countries the world over. It sent masks, personal protective equipment and medical teams across the globe and shared its experience in fighting COVID-19. China's decisive policies, targeted approach, and swift action in treating COVID-19 were an example for societies that were clearly struggling to contain the virus.

Above all, the Chinese Government prioritized saving lives, and thus saved the economy as well. Governments that attempted to ignore the spreading virus in order to minimize the impact on their economies could neither save lives, nor maintain economic stability. COVID-19 can be regarded as a touchstone that showed the hollowness of the creed that Western "democracies" are superior.

Chinese wisdom advocates that each society carve out its own model of governance that suits its unique requirements. We are all equal, but also different. Solutions and specific structures don't need to be identical, as long as we are all moving in one direction of mutual coexistence and positive development. This is ancient wisdom that is much needed in today's world.

Support for multilateralism has been one of the strengths of China's foreign policy as an emerging power. Establishing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, enhancement of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, committing to the Paris Agreement, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, and the China International Import Expo, these are all efforts to boost collective action and cooperation.

The latest trade deals, the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, prove that these endeavors are also welcome in regions that may have previously prioritized politics over pragmatism.

This spirit of supporting multilateralism has not only endured amid COVID-19 but has been heightened. China has increased its commitment to the World Health Organization at a time when the Donald Trump administration abandoned it. It has also collaborated with various countries on vaccine development. Additionally, it has pledged to provide homegrown vaccines to other developing countries, whose health is vital for global progress.

Only time will tell to what extent these pledges can be fulfilled, but the fact that China has assumed a leadership role and does not focus on domestic stability while overlooking the greater human community is one of the many manifestations of a shared future for humankind.

COVID-19 has been a true test, and one that China has passed with flying colors. While we are still suffering the impact globally and a second and third wave in various countries and regions have left people worse off than they ever imagined, the spirit of opening up, rather than closing borders, is what we need. China has demonstrated through action that a shared community for humankind is not a mere ideal but tangible support in times of crisis.

Working together is a commitment that brings manifold returns. Humanity is one.

(Print Edition Title: Test by Fire)

The author is a research fellow at the Belt and Road Institute of Tsinghua University

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

Comments to ffli@bjreview.com

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