In his latest book “Leadership – Six Studies in World Strategy,” Dr. Henry Kissinger has expounded his views on statecraft. He writes that any society, whatever its political system, is perpetually in transit between a past memory and a future vision since both are the inspiring forces of evolution. “Along this route, therefore, leadership is always indispensable.”
For Kissinger, it is self-evident that grand decisions must be made rationally, mutual trust should be earned internally and externally, and a forward path be proposed feasibly. Conversely, policy can drift and nations may court growing uncertainties or even disaster without seasoned leadership. China is no exception.
As one of the ancient nations of the world, China is inspired by its splendid civilization, while also aspiring to national development and rejuvenation. Under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC), China has achieved the mission of alleviating hundreds of millions of its population from poverty and made great progress in the fields of economics, education, and environment. China is now more confident than ever as it takes a key role at the “center of the world stage.” No wonder, the leadership of the CPC has been committed to reconstructing China from a poor and backward country to a uniquely dynamic and prosperous country.
China is now the world’s second-largest economy and a leading trade power. President Xi Jinping has reiterated that the development of China cannot be isolated from the world, and a prosperous China benefits worldwide development. Thus, China has earnestly pursued a peaceful rise harnessing the wisdom of Chinese statecraft while firmly rejecting the notion that China’s rising is doomed to conflict with other major countries of the world.
Development is the key
Development is the eternal pursuit of human society, and the Chinese government remains committed to national reconstruction and development by adapting to priority variances. In 2021, President Xi announced the Global Development Initiative (GDI) at the 76th session of UN General Assembly, which echoed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as the mission of current international development cooperation. The achievement of China’s campaign against poverty not only signifies the triumph of human resilience, but also provides invaluable insights into the effective practice of poverty reduction strategies made by China’s leaders. As U.S. economist Jeffry Frieden observed, China has grown rapidly for over 30 years and elevated living standards far beyond those of 1980.
The most noteworthy concepts and principles of the GDI are identified with China’s efforts to “focus on development, prioritize development cooperation in global macro-policy coordination, and tackle outstanding problems and challenges in national governance through development.” First, as development is seen as the key to maintaining social stability and world peace, China has engineered feasible economic growth in line with the “betterment of people’s well-being.” In the Chinese context, the concept of “people-centered,” which refers to “enhancing people’s livelihood to hold a sense of happiness, gain and security,” is also the genuine protection of human rights. Second, in a globalized world, economic advancement ought to fit well with all countries and, in particular, the Global South. Third, in the long run, world development follows the innate laws of the ecosystem, e.g., assurance of both development and environmental protection. According to the GDI, since human and nature form a community of life, it is significant for the international community to advance sustainable social-economic development symbiotically.
Thus, China has adopted technological innovation as the primary driving force for development in the new era, which also stabilizes economic recovery, accelerates global development, and promotes the tangible growth of the Global South. Moreover, China upholds multilateralism and supports the UN in playing a coordinating role in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and has also taken an “action-oriented” approach to global developmental models. In the past year, the GDI has forged international consensus on jointly promoting development and encouraged the international community to synergize the 2030 Agenda, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and Agenda 2063 of the African Union. Also, China has steadily pushed for advancing North-South dialogues, deepening South-South synergies, and enhancing the role and voice of emerging markets and developing countries in global governance.
Security is the prerequisite
Universal security is the prerequisite for global development due to the uneven growth among regions and significant disparities between the Global North and Global South. China’s President Xi first proposed the Global Security Initiative (GSI) in 2022 during his address at the Boao Forum. The GSI vision is to provide security for all countries via “six commitments” that cover common, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable security and the conventional security concepts such as respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries. The six commitments are an organic entirety of dialectical unity, with a view of addressing the complex and intertwined security challenges with a win-win mindset.
As security inherently involves traditional and non-traditional concerns, China has urged that the purposes and principles of the UN Charter be respected and the legitimate security concerns of all countries be genuinely addressed. With the ongoing Ukraine Crisis and other crises and disputes occurring globally, China has urged all concerned parties that peaceful settlement of disputes between countries through dialogue is elemental. Some scholars have argued that the core concepts and principles of the GSI are the mainstay of China’s foreign policy since the 1950s. However, China’s novel approach was the proposal to all countries to uphold the principle of indivisible security and building of a balanced, effective, and sustainable security architecture. The GSI defines the new architecture as “the legitimate and reasonable security concerns of all countries being taken seriously and addressed properly… Any country, while pursuing its own security, should take into account the reasonable security concerns of others.”
The GSI covers and extends the general spirit of the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-Existence adopted 70 years ago to make a critical contribution to the world in the new era. While the international community is faced with deficits in peace, development, security, and governance, the GSI works in tandem with the BRI and the GDI to form part of China’s overarching vision and strategy of creating public goods to build a community with a shared future for humanity. The GSI aims to eliminate the root causes of international conflicts, improve global security governance, encourage joint international efforts to bring more stability and certainty to a volatile and changing era, and promote durable peace and development in the world. Thus, in foreign affairs where sovereign states interact in terms of respective vital interests, security of one side cannot come at the expense of the security of others.
The benefits of the GDI and the GSI have been echoed by the Global South and particularly by African countries. Two sessions of the China-Africa Peace and Security Forum involving about 50 African states were held in 2022. China and its African partners agreed to move towards a promising vision of jointly building a security community. Alongside the consensus on broad principles and procedures with African partners, the GSI clearly details aid and assistance from China in areas of strategic communication, equipment and technology cooperation, joint maritime training exercises, exchange in professional fields, and other technical and financial assistance to counter terrorism and other threats in Africa. For example, some African countries have already received assistance from China in building local highways, railways, ports, dams, and power stations. As such, the world has witnessed China enacting the responsible provision to Africa and other regions of feasible supports to their urgent needs.
Harmony is the future
China and many other countries, including those of the Global South, have long aspired for peace and its practical benefits. However, the U.S.-led West has pushed for a continuing unilateral world order based on hegemony and bloc confrontation, which contradicts the spirit of the multipolar world order centered on the role of the UN. In the 1990s, Samuel Huntington argued that with great power conflicts waning in the post-Cold War world, “interstate conflicts would reemerge focusing on culture as a source of conflict.” Yet, Huntington’s vision of the clash of civilizations suffered from his oversimplification of world trends. Conversely, China has opined that the value of diversity in civilization is the source of human progress. By connecting diverse cultures and nation-states, the BRI has brought China ever closer to over 70 countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
In 2023, President Xi unveiled the Global Civilization Initiative (GCI) during a gathering of political parties from around the world. Along with the GDI and the GSI, the GCI forms a comprehensive approach to promote world development, security, and harmony. President Xi’s call for a global network of inter-civilizational dialogue and cooperation aligns with his vision of promoting people-to-people exchanges and global cooperation. First, the GCI aims to build on the inherent strengths of China. The initiative seeks to foster deep interactions between civilizations across the globe, evolve common values and share the goals of peace and development. By cementing the strength of a new type of state-to-state relations, China is committed to enlarging global partnerships and building a new type of international relations that prioritize common interests.
Second, the GCI reflects China’s global commitment to its peaceful rise, harmonious coexistence, and cultural tolerance. With the rise of its comprehensive global strength, China has vowed to responsibly foster global development, security, and harmony. President Xi’s remarks reflect the common values of human civilizations, including democracy, equity, justice, and freedom, in pursuit of peaceful development. In this sense, the GCI confirms that core human values should be global in scope and applicable to all.
The idea of mutual coexistence is not mere rhetoric but a well-thought-out policy with guiding principles, the foremost of which is to promote inter-civilizational dialogue and transnational cooperation to pave the way for an interconnected human civilization. As the world faces the challenges from economic slowdown, ecological degradation, and a lingering Cold War mentality, China’s emphasis on people-to-people dialogues and cooperation is key to building a global network for inter-civilizational cooperation. The GCI is a further testament to China’s genuine belief in global prosperity, common values, and shared civilization.
The arguments put forth above explain how the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative, and the Global Civilization Initiative strategically integrate with the Belt and Road Initiative to form a potent non-Western alternative that responds to the growing aspirations of the developing country majority of the global family. Kishore Mahbubani has observed that when China offers global initiatives, the seminal notion is “global” rather than the “local” frequently used by US leadership. As such, China’s global initiatives urge all countries to work together and build an open, inclusive, and symbiotic world based on universal security, enduring peace, and common prosperity.
Leadership is most essential in times of transition as leaders are called on to think creatively and diagnostically about the sources of society’s well-being: which objectives deserve commitment, and which prospects must be rejected no matter how tempting. China’s global initiatives are not only essential for peaceful development, but also foster “mutual respect, reciprocal benefits and win-win cooperation” in foreign affairs.