The world today is struggling against the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and undergoing changes unseen in a century. The co-occurrence is profoundly reshaping the world and revamping our lives in myriad ways. Sweeping across almost all countries and regions, COVID-19 is the most serious pandemic since World War II, affecting more than 7 billion people and having claimed more than 1.5 million lives so far.
The pandemic has precipitated the worst global recession since the 1930s. The International Monetary Fund forecasts that global GDP will shrink by 4.4 percent this year, and the World Bank estimates that hundreds of millions of people have been plunged into extreme poverty as a result. Economic globalization has met a cold front that attempts to push it backward. The pandemic has brought almost everything to a standstill－from tourism and aviation to trade, commerce and the flow of people. More than 40 airlines around the world went bankrupt. Industrial and supply chains have been seriously disrupted. The multilateral trading system faces numerous challenges. A certain big country has engaged in unscrupulous bullying, and even provoking a new Cold War. International tensions and regional conflicts are clearly on the rise. All these pose unprecedented challenges to the global governance system and the international order.
The way forward for the world
No one is immune to the virus. The top priority at the moment is to contain its spread. Countries must put people and saving lives first, opt for unity over division, and work together to build an international line of defense against the virus. In particular, they must cooperate on vaccine R&D and distribution, and make the vaccines a public good accessible and affordable to people in all countries.
The central task in front of us is to revive the global economy. Protectionism or “decoupling” will only aggravate the economic situation. We should promote the building of an open world economy, encourage connectivity between countries, protect the safe and smooth operation of the industrial and supply chains, vigorously develop the digital economy, and foster new drivers of growth, so as to achieve inclusive and sustainable development.
What is urgently needed is a more just and equitable international governance system. Zero-sum game and unilateral bullying are no solutions. They cannot put one’s own house in order, let alone tackling the common challenges of mankind. Countries need to embrace the basic principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, keep improving global governance, and uphold the international system with the United Nations at its core and the international order based on international law.
The ultimate solution lies in building a community with a shared future for mankind. Humanity live on the same planet, and our interests and futures are interlinked. The pandemic has highlighted the need and urgency of building a community with a shared future and has gained greater traction for the vision. COVID-19 is unlikely the last crisis for humanity. We must close ranks to brace for other global challenges. The awareness that we are “one big family” and a “community” is the only choice for the future of mankind.
With courage and determination, the 1.4 billion Chinese people have endeavored to minimize the impact of the pandemic, speedily restored life and work, and attained steady economic progress this year. At the Fifth Plenum of the 19th Communist Party of China Central Committee in October, recommendations for the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) and long-range goals for 2035 were adopted, laying down the strategic blueprint for fully building China into a modern socialist country. Based on a keen understanding of the new development stage, we will act on the new development philosophy, and foster a new development paradigm with domestic circulation as the mainstay and domestic and international circulations reinforcing each other. It must be stressed that the new development paradigm China pursues is not an enclosed domestic circulation; rather, it is an open dual circulation with the domestic and international aspects reinforcing each other. China will not backpedal. Instead of closing our doors, we will open them wider. An increasingly open and growing China will create vast development opportunities for other countries, and make greater contributions to the stability and prosperity of the post-pandemic world.
Chinese diplomacy during the pandemic and beyond
The pandemic is an extraordinary and unforgettable test for us all. In the face of this historical challenge, we on the diplomatic front have followed the strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee, correctly identified, properly responded to, and proactively shaped the changes. We have engaged in effective COVID-response diplomacy, and demonstrated the firm principles and distinct features of China’s major-country diplomacy in the new era. As a participant and witness in this process, I wish to share some of my thoughts on this topic.
First, we always put the people at the center. China’s diplomacy is for the people and aims to meet the needs of the people. It connects the students and other Chinese citizens overseas with millions of their families at home, and it concerns the interests of each and every Chinese. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, our diplomatic and consular staff have braved various risks and difficulties, doing their best to convey the care of the Party and the nation to every Chinese citizen abroad. We have distributed personal protective materials to more than 5 million overseas Chinese, delivered more than 1.2 million health kits to Chinese students in need, and arranged hundreds of ad hoc flights to bring back Chinese stranded abroad. Our diplomats chose to stay on the front line despite risks to their own health and life, but their actions have brought warmth, assurance and confidence to our compatriots overseas.
Second, we are firm in safeguarding our national interests. This year, some hostile elements in the world have been making desperate efforts to attack and suppress China, unscrupulously scapegoat us, and flagrantly interfere in our internal affairs. They go after innocent Chinese companies, defame the CPC and the Chinese political system, and force other countries through coercion to encircle and confront China. There is no limit for their moves. While they keep pushing the envelope, we cannot stay muted and swallow the bitterness with a hope that somehow they will stop. Naturally we must fight back head-on. As President Xi Jinping stressed, the Chinese people do not provoke trouble, but we do not fear provocations; our legs will not tremble and we will not bow in the face of difficulties and risks. On safeguarding China’s interests and dignity, China’s diplomacy is always backed by dignity without any attempt to yield or to please others.
Third, China endeavors to live up to its responsibilities as a major country. President Xi Jinping has made it clear that major countries must act like major countries. In safeguarding world peace and development, major countries shoulder special responsibilities. Instead of putting themselves first, or even benefitting themselves at the others’ expense, major countries must lead by example both in providing international public goods and in making positive contribution to global governance.
In the wake of the pandemic, China has launched the largest ever global emergency humanitarian operation since the founding of New China. We have sent 36 medical expert teams to 34 countries and COVID-19 response assistance to 150 countries and nine international organizations. China has joined COVAX and pledged to make its vaccines a global public good.
To facilitate economic reopening, we have found creative ways by opening up “fast tracks” for travel, “green lanes” for the flow of goods, and lifelines for the transportation of food. We have also taken an active part in the international community’s debt service suspension initiative for developing countries to help them overcome difficulties.
In reforming the global governance system, we firmly support increasing the representation and voice of developing countries. We call for joint formulation of rules and oppose unilateralism and power politics. We have earnestly implemented the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change, and presented the Global Initiative on Data Security to strengthen global digital governance to contribute China’s solutions and wisdom to a better global governance system.
Fourth, China views the opportunities and challenges in our world from a dialectical perspective. The world is experiencing profound and rapid changes. China faces an increasingly complex and formidable external environment. Sources of instability and risks are on the rise. More and greater risks may lie ahead. We must be prepared for risks and worse-case scenarios, and strive to prevent and defuse potential crises and challenges. On top of that, it is vital to see that in every challenge lies an opportunity and challenges can turn into opportunities. By successfully tackling challenges, we can also create new opportunities. Effective response to an unprecedented challenge can mean unprecedented opportunities.
China’s fight against the coronavirus is a good example of rising to the challenge and turning it into an opportunity. The sudden onslaught of COVID-19 first hit China and created an extremely stressful situation. Quite a few countries pulled their people and businesses out of China, suspended flights and even attempted to cut off China completely from the world.
But China was not intimidated. Under the direct leadership of President Xi Jinping, the Chinese people united as one and fought this unprecedented pandemic together. Within a short period, China made a major strategic achievement in putting the virus under control. Rather than a “Chernobyl moment” for China, the pandemic became an extraordinary test that highlighted the strengths of our socialist system with Chinese characteristics.
Debunking a few myths about China
Lately there have been various comments and labelings on China’s diplomacy. I wish to share my observations on this.
First, there are quite some talks about the so-called “wolf-warrior diplomacy”. This is a mischaracterization of China’s diplomacy at the minimum. China is always a nation of moderation, and always values peace and harmony. It never provokes anyone. It never instigates troubles at others’ doorsteps, let alone in their homes. The fact is that some other countries are flexing their muscles at our doorsteps, meddling in our internal affairs, and making a barrage of groundless accusations and slanders on us. We have no choice but to stand up in self defense to safeguard our national dignity and interests. It is thus obvious that the “wolf-warrior diplomacy” labeling is just another version of “China threat” and a new “narrative trap”. Its purpose is to tie our hands, mute our voices, and get us to give up fighting back. I suspect that these people are still indulging in their old dreams of 100 years ago.
Some claim that China is undermining international rules and challenging the existing international order. The international community must be well aware who exactly is breaching international treaties and rules, who is pursuing unilateralism, and who is seeking hegemony. It is not China that violates multilateral trade rules, uses tariff as a weapon, and cripples the World Trade Organization. It is not China that hampers international cooperation against COVID-19, and withdraws from the World Health Organization and cuts off its funding. And it is not China that pulls out of the Paris Agreement and threatens to “topple the card table”. China is a responsible major country, a longstanding defender of the international order, a contributor to global governance, and a provider of international public goods.
Some claim that China is making enemies around the world. That is not true. China is committed to building friendship and good relations. But a certain major country, in order to suppress and contain China, has been forcing other countries to take sides and advocating “you are either my friend or my foe”. In spite of this, our friends are not leaving us. On the contrary, more and more are joining us as friends. Many developing countries and people who are friendly toward China have resisted calls to stop cooperation with China. They have spoken up for China on international occasions. Up to now, nearly 170 countries and international organizations have participated in the Belt and Road Initiative. The number of member countries in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has increased to 103.
At this year’s gathering of the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, more than 70 countries supported China individually or through joint statements. Their support was instrumental in thwarting the attempt of certain countries to move against China on Hong Kong and Xinjiang. Chinese candidates have been elected to the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea with overwhelming support. The UN COVID-19 resolution, backed by China, was adopted by a vote of 169 to 2. These figures and facts show that China is on the right side of history. What China advocates and does meets people’s aspiration and accords with the trend of the times. China has friends all over the world.
Some accuse China of being an “authoritarian” country, and use this as a false basis to smear China’s COVID-19 control measures, including lockdowns, quarantine and contact tracing, calling them “autocratic” and “constraints on personal freedoms”. They even cite mask-wearing as an infringement on human rights. But when lives are at stake, the responsible thing to do for any government is to put lives first, respect science, and take all measures necessary to protect people’s health. This is not about democracy or freedom. In the face of a deadly pandemic, there is no real freedom unless we respect science. The right to health and life is the most fundamental right. China’s success in largely containing COVID-19 provides the best evidence. Because of the weeks-long lockdown, people in China are now able to enjoy their freedom and human rights. They can move freely to visit friends and family, go to school, and travel as tourists wherever they want. To call such freedom “authoritarianism” would be the biggest irony for those making such accusations and their so-called democracy and freedom.
The author is vice-minister of foreign affairs of China.