Though unfamiliar to most Westerners, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence are highly acclaimed diplomatic tenets in China and many other developing countries. The principles—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—were reaffirmed at a recent conference commemorating their 60th anniversary. At the event in Beijing, leaders from the three founding nations of China, India and Myanmar vowed to uphold and promote these principles in light of new circumstances.
The principles were first proposed by China at the height of the post-WWII decolonization movement. They quickly gained the recognition of newly independent countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America that yearned for equality in international relations. Today, while globalization has transformed the world into a community of nations with interwoven interests, the core values embodied in the five principles remain pertinent.
One of these values is sovereign equality, which means that a country should be allowed to handle its domestic affairs free from foreign intervention, and international issues should be addressed through consultations by all countries concerned. Common security is another essential notion. It calls on a country to take into account other countries' security concerns while seeking to safeguard its own defenses. Moreover, this win-win cooperation is a key approach to finding solutions to complex international problems and delivering benefits to the more than 7 billion residents on the planet.
China's sincerity in honoring the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence is genuine. Notably, the principles are consistent with Chinese cultural traditions. People in China, which remained predominately an agrarian society for thousands of years, are traditionally risk-averse, unaggressive and long for care-free, peaceful lives. They also prefer harmony and moderation, as advocated by the Confucian Doctrine of the Mean, over playing up differences and engaging in confrontation. These inherent traits have been embedded in the cultural genetic makeup of the nation.
A look at deep-seated national characteristics should help counter accusations that China has jeopardized regional security. China has been on the defensive in all recent clashes in the East China and the South China seas. Beijing has long pledged to settle territorial disputes with neighbors through negotiations and not to allow them to interrupt their cooperation before solutions are reached. Had China's vision of jointly developing marine resources while shelving territorial disputes been implemented, East Asian security might not have become a point of contention.
The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence provide a viable method of defusing regional and global tensions. It is time that we championed these fundamental principles to a global audience, highlighted their relevance and applied them to international relations.