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Chinese Wisdom in the Three Global Initiatives
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Chinese Wisdom in the Three Global Initiatives

During his visit to Serbia in early May, Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a joint statement on the building of a China-Serbia community with a shared future in the new era with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, which makes Serbia the first European country to forge ahead in building such a community with China. This move marks an upgrade of their relations from the comprehensive strategic partnership established eight years ago. While meeting the press after their talks, the two presidents said that both sides had agreed to advance the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative and the Global Civilization Initiative, defend international fairness and justice, and reject hegemonism and power politics.

President Xi delivered the same message of international cooperation in France, which he visited before traveling to Serbia. When meeting the press with President Emmanuel Macron, Xi made the remarks, “This year marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. Thanks to 75 years of extraordinary efforts, transformative changes have taken place in China and in the lives of the Chinese people. But one thing remains unchanged – our peace-loving and kind nature, our open-mindedness and inclusiveness, and our pursuit of fairness and justice. This is deeply rooted in the 5,000-year-old Chinese culture and in the soul of the Chinese people. China stands ready to develop friendly relations and cooperation with France and all other countries on the basis of mutual respect, move forward together in the face of common challenges, and build a better future together.”

The Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative, and the Global Civilization Initiative put forward by China provide guidance for building a global community of shared future. As noted in the whitepaper A Global Community of Shared Future: China’s Proposals and Actions that China released in 2023, “It is widely recognized that peace and stability, material sufficiency, and cultural-ethical enrichment represent the basic goals of human society. Development serves as the material foundation for security and civilization, security acts as the fundamental prerequisite for development and civilization, and civilization provides the cultural-ethical support for development and security. The Global Development Initiative, Global Security Initiative, and Global Civilization Initiative proposed by China guide the advance of human society across these three dimensions. Resonating and complementing each other, they have evolved into a crucial cornerstone for building a global community of shared future, offering China’s solutions to major challenges pertaining to peace and development for humanity.”

Ancient Wisdom in the Three Initiatives

These three initiatives are based on global consensus and convey Chinese wisdom.

Traditional Chinese culture was shaped by the coexistence of multiple faiths, primarily Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. Some of their tenets underpin the three initiatives, such as the unity of cultivating the moral self, managing the family, governing the state and safeguarding peace under Heaven, equality among all, and the absence of rivalry.

The egalitarianism expounded by Buddhism echoes with the goals of common development and universal security of this era. Buddhists make no distinction between objects of different smells, colors, or sounds. Similarly, China’s stance on international affairs is that all countries, big or small, are equals, and should treat each other with respect. It firmly opposes hegemonism and power politics in any form. Buddhism aims for extricating all humanity from pain and suffering. This resonates pertinently in a time plagued by the widening South-North gap and escalating conflicts worldwide. China respects the sovereignty of other countries and offers generous help to its developing peers to promote global peace and development. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it supplied free vaccines to many developing countries. China is also the top contributor to UN peacekeeping forces among the five permanent members of the Security Council and the second largest contributor to UN peacekeeping assessments.

In Confucianism, a person of virtue is obliged to cultivate morality, manage the family well, properly govern the state, and safeguard peace under Heaven. Confucians believed that the virtuous are never left to stand alone. They urged states to endorse good neighborliness with good faith and good will, and pursue both friendship and interests while putting friendship first. The Analects reads, “A superior man seeks harmony but not uniformity; a mean man seeks uniformity but not harmony.”

In this spirit, China pursues peaceful coexistence of all members of the international community and upholds the principles of respecting the different political and social systems of other countries, supporting multilateralism and diversity, and opposing interference in others’ internal affairs or imposing one’s values onto others.

China is also playing an active role in promoting peaceful development. It emphasizes the importance of solving international conflicts through peaceful means such as cooperation and negotiation, and works with other countries to safeguard international and regional peace and security. Guarding against uniformity without harmony – which amounts to hegemony – China works for greater democracy in the international sphere in the pursuit of an orderly multipolar world. For this purpose, it leads efforts to create a better global governance system that will achieve global harmony.

Taoism is known for its aversion to rivalry. With the ascendance of China and other emerging economies over recent decades, there has been a spate of detraction, accusing them of disrupting the existing international order and posing a threat to other countries. In fact, China has no intention of seeking hegemony. As Tao Te Ching writes, the reason that rivers and seas are able to receive the homage and tribute of all the valley streams is due to them lying lower than the latter. This metaphor conveys the Taoist belief that respect and goodwill toward others places one in a position of strength without rivalry. This is exactly the thinking behind China’s proposal of building a global community of shared future. China promotes shared values of humanity including peace, development, justice, equity, democracy, and freedom, is open-minded toward other civilizations, and respects the endeavors of other peoples to explore their own paths of development.

Cultural Differences

Of the aforesaid three initiatives, the Global Security Initiative is met with stronger suspicion in Western countries, largely because of the divergence in Eastern and Western cultures and ways of thinking.

In Chinese philosophy, the Dao, or the natural way of the cosmos, governs all beings and all happenings in the universe. Chinese people are taught to follow the Dao to pursue harmony and morality. In contrast, Western thinking is defined by dualism, as seen in the antithesis between good and evil, material and spiritual, us and them, and war and peace. Through this lens, international relations are viewed as battles and the acts of countries as moves in a zero-sum game in which the gains of one country invariably come at the cost of the other. This notion of rivalry hurts the chances of inter-state cooperation and increases tensions in the international situation.

Realism, a school of thought in international relations, views the global system as being in a state of anarchy in which major countries vie for power and security – a scarce resource. Their aggressive behaviors in this competition will inevitably lead to conflicts and even wars. This postulate provides some insight into the U.S.’s attitude toward a rising China – often misinterpreting and amplifying China’s acts as a direct challenge to its dominance. This presumed antagonism predisposes the U.S. to a China policy of building global alliances against it. An alliance meant to oppose other parties is, however, more often than not, fragile because it is devoid of deeper cooperation and mutual trust. Under the myopic strategy of building alliances against China, Western countries overlook the possibilities of partnering with China in solving issues of global significance, and miss out on the opportunities to jointly safeguard international stability and development.

The Chinese approach to security has its roots in the tradition of valuing moral responsibility and collective wellbeing. It is therefore aimed at fostering international relations based on win-win cooperation. China believes that global issues need to be solved through joint efforts by all countries as their interests are intertwined. The Western approach to security is by contrast centered on individualism, confrontation, and competition for power and profits. These diametrically opposed ways of thinking determine that China and some Western countries adopt different strategies and choose divergent paths in international relations and global governance.

Historical and Cultural Roots

On April 15, 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed for the first time a holistic approach to national security, which signifies integration between China’s cultural traditions and contemporary international relations. In seeking ways to address threats to global security, ancient Chinese schools of thought including Confucianism, Taoism, and Mohism, are a source of inspiration.

Confucianism is the philosophical foundation of the holistic approach to national security. Its notion that family and nation are inseparable is a central idea of Chinese culture, and has played a critical role in national unification. Confucianism sees connections between the safety of individuals, the stability of their countries, and peace across the world. It hence emphasizes interdependence and shared responsibilities. The connection between family and nation exists at all levels – material, spiritual, and cultural, making them an indivisible entity. This Confucian notion transcends the tunnel vision of maximizing national interests and enhancing security solely by building up national strength. Instead, it advocates common security, lasting peace, and development for all.

Another Confucian concept influencing China’s approach to national security is Yiduobufen (inseparability of one and many), which stresses the all-encompassing nature of the perpetual Dao and views everything from the perspective of the inherent relations between its parts. Examined through this lens, security becomes contingent upon the totality of elements in all relevant areas and the result of the relations and interactions between them. This philosophical thinking reveals that to respond to security challenges, the big picture needs to be considered and systematic solutions sought.

Confucianism also emphasizes the relationship between the whole and its parts, arguing that the diversity of parts does not impede the unity of the whole. With this understanding, China calls for building a global community of shared future. China can have enduring prosperity only if all countries of the globe live in harmony and realize development. Meanwhile, China's rejuvenation is not only in its own interest, but also creates opportunities to enhance global security. As President Xi said, “Humankind is a community with a shared future. China can only do well when the world is doing well. When China does well, the world will get even better.”

The dialectics of Taoism offer inspiration for effectively handling security issues. Taoists perceive all beings and happenings in the universe through the concepts of Yin and Yang, which are seen as interchangeable, interrelated, and influencing each other. They reflect upon the unity of opposites. This view allows China to understand and address intricate security threats from a unique perspective. Security and development are not independent of each other, but rather are interdependent and reinforce each other, just like the inseparable relationship between Yin and Yang. Security provides the stability necessary for development, while development lays a stronger foundation for security. Similarly, crises and opportunities are also of a symbiotic relationship, with an opportunity hidden in a crisis and a risk in an opportunity. With proper action, a crisis can be managed and turned into an opportunity. This holistic approach towards security has helped China to respond more effectively to challenges on the global stage and to promote steady development of international relations.

Taoists detest wars, regarding arms as instruments of evil omen. They preached living in harmony and respecting each other by cultivating moral character. Their ideal is rule of virtue rather than rule by force.

The two core principles of Mohism are universal love and shunning aggression. Mohists called for impartial care for everyone; caring for others’ safety, families, and states as one’s own. They also strongly objected to unjustified wars, saying that attacking a state without good reason is as immoral as killing people. They envisioned that when all people reach a level where they can tell justice from injustice, the world would be free of wars. The founder of this school of thought, Mozi, not only studied anti-war theories but also developed technologies to protect civilians from the destruction of wars. He invented various military defensive equipment, including a kind of mobile shield. This dual approach of paying equal attention to morality and practicability is still relevant for today’s efforts towards establishing enduring security.  

China TodayShen Yi

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