In March 2013, during his speech at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Chinese President XI Jinping set out the concept of building “a type of international relations oriented towards win-win cooperation”. The concept was warmly received, and hailed as transcending the conventional boundaries of international-relations theory. More significantly, it offered the Chinese answer to the fundamental question of where international relations are heading in the 21st century.
The modern international-relations system as we know today dated back to the 17th century, having evolved through the Westphalian system, the Vienna System, the Versailles-Washington System, and bearing the marks of the Cold War era defined by US-Soviet confrontation, before emerging into a post-war unipolar system featuring US supremacy. This epic process was largely dominated by the West, underpinned by social Calvinism and zero-sum thinking. The Realism school believes that as there is no trust entertained between one state and another, that inter-state cooperation is untenable, and that commitment not reliable — thus a state must build its own power to defend its own security.
In a nutshell, confrontation, rather than cooperation, is the norm in international relations. Realism thinking may well help explain the occurrence of wars and rivalry between Western countries as witnessed by modern history, but it could only go this far, being merely viable in a preconditioned context where the Western countries dominated the international relations landscape, and the rest – the majority — were not up to the tasks of defending their self-interests or influencing the state of international affairs. Yet, today’s international landscape has profoundly changed, both in terms of the actors involved and the way they cooperate and compete with each other, and the changes in the equation have rendered the tradition of zero-sum thinking irrelevant.
The “new type of international relations oriented towards win-win cooperation” expounded by President Xi Jinping has the power to resonate with audiences worldwide. It is informed by and rooted in the new international landscape of the 21st century.
First and foremost, the emergence of developing countries transforms the post-WWII international relations landscape. When the United Nations was first established, there were only 51 member states, including only a few developing ones. Now, the UN proudly boasts 193 members, and the developing countries have emerged as a force to be reckoned with, playing increasingly important roles in international affairs. On the economic front in the pre-WWII era, the Third World countries were merely dependent states under the colonial regime, with limited footprint on the world economy. Now, collectively, developing countries have surpassed the developed ones both in terms of the proportion of and contribution to the global economy.
A new dynamic in international relations is also driven by the deepening of shared interests among countries. Globalization has connected our world like never before, as all countries are integrating closely along a common global supply chain, industrial chain and value chain. As a result, the challenges we face in world peace and development have also evolved in complexity, magnitude and persistence. The “global village” myth has become a reality, and we should be alive to the fact that we are all living in a global community of shared interests. As such, one country needs to accommodate the interests of others while advancing its own, and aim to promote common development. This is becoming the prevailing theme of our times.
The ”Belt and Road” initiative championed by China and the establishment of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank , known as the AIIB, are potent votes of confidence in the future of this new international system. The AIIB undertaking got off to a spectacular start, having attracted 57 founding members spanning all five continents of the world. It was no secret that the United States and Japan went to great lengths to obstruct the establishment of the AIIB , in a parochial calculation of self-interest. As common sense would have it, going against the global grain would lead a country to nowhere, and so it was in this case.
Plain and simple in rhetoric, the concept of “win-win cooperation” offers a lucid narrative for a profound and sophisticated diplomatic approach. As a theoretical font of wisdom, the concept is highly viable and relevant to our times, in that it is applicable to international cooperation in political, economic, security, cultural and many other areas, and could serve as a guiding principle for international efforts to tackle new challenges, and aspirations to build a new international order. It could lend guidance to diplomacy to address regional disputes, promote pragmatic cooperation and advance regional and global integration. “Win-win cooperation” differs from conventional Western thinking in that it believes in seeking “convergence”, while the latter is more about containing “divergence” (thus the consequential need to ensure a balance of power). Understandably, by emphasizing convergence, “win-win cooperation” encourages all parties to identify areas where interests may align, then expand their common ground. It would multiply the positive dynamics in the international-relations system, and help catalyze mutually beneficial cooperation.
60 years ago, China and its Asian neighbors jointly put forward the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence (hereafter referred to as the “Principles”). The Principles represented a historic contribution to the national development of newly independent countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and helped to launch an international order on the right course. A new type of international relations defined by win-win cooperation befits the world order of the day. It stands central to building a more just and fair international order for the 21st century. Over time, empirical practices would bear out its merits.
China has emerged as the world’s second biggest economy, accounting for nearly one-third of the annual global economic growth. If China is to maintain a 7% growth under the “New Normal”, the country would stand poised to surpass the US as the biggest economy in the world sooner than estimated. With this in mind, it is natural that China is the focus of attention now, and more and more discussions are geared towards questions such as how China will pursue its own interests, whether it will seek hegemony as it grows stronger, and what role China seeks to play in the international order, etc. To build “a new type of international relations oriented towards win-win cooperation” captures the essence of these questions. Furthermore, it illustrates how China would interact with the world, and how it would integrate its domestic and foreign policies. All in all, the concept aims to convey a core message– China’s modernization and international engagement correspond to the trend of our times, and serve the common interests of the world. A stronger China means more opportunities, and a better chance for common prosperity for all.