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Foreign Policy

Jostling of Two Types of World Orders

Dec 03 , 2015
  • Yin Chengde

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for International Studies

Recently, US warships have frequented waters off China’s Nansha Islands in a blatant attempt to challenge China’s sovereignty and security. On the other hand, the US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter accused China of “challenging the international order”. As a matter of fact, what China has done is all within the mandate of its sovereignty. Carter’s accusation also shows that there are two different types of world orders, whose merits and demerits deserve a debate.

There is only one genuine world order, which has the United Nations at its center and the UN Charter as its legal basis. The core purposes and principles of this world order are to maintain world peace and to ensure that all countries are equal members of the international community who observe the principles of mutual non-aggression and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. It is a clear break from the old international order dominated by big powers in the past few hundred years and the “law of the jungle” under which the strong bully the weak. It ushered in a new era for international relations. The UN and the international order it represents are products of victory in the World Anti-Fascist War, reflecting the essence and prevailing trend of post-war international relations, international justice and human conscience. Over the years, the United Nations and the world order underpinned by the UN Charter have significantly contributed to world peace, generally ensured the normal functioning of post-war international relations and activities, and made it possible for countries, especially more than a hundred developing countries, to defend their independence and sovereignty. It is the only equitable and legitimate world order universally recognized and accepted by the 192 member states of the UN.

There is also a US version of “world order”. The US pursues utilitarianism when it comes to the UN and the international system and order represented by the UN. It even uses the UN as its tool to carry out its global strategy. Since the end of the Cold War in particular, the US has gone so far as to attempt to start all over again and build a new system. Immediately after the Cold War, the then US President George H. W. Bush openly proposed the establishment of a “new world order” dominated by the US supremacy. Since then, the establishment of a “new world order”, or in other words, pursuit of hegemony, has become the overall objective of the US global strategy and its set state policy. Such a new world order is meant to ensure that the US has the final say about international affairs and other countries have to follow the US orders. Under the pretext of such notions as “human rights know no border”, “human rights are superior to sovereignty” and “humanitarian intervention is justified”, the US wielded the stick of sanctions to punish those countries that would not obey its orders, gravely violating their sovereignty and interfering in their internal affairs, even using war as a tool to realize regime change in “antagonizing” countries. To put in place the “new order”, in a short span of 20 years after the Cold War, the US launched five regional wars, plunged one country into chaos and conflicts, and overturned three regimes, inflicting tremendous humanitarian crises on the relevant countries, with the current refugee crisis in Europe being one effect. In essence, the US “new world order” is a new variation of the old world order of power politics, and the root cause for the lingering of the old evil marked by bullying of the small, weak and poor by the big, strong and rich. Such a “new world order” goes against the tide of the times. It is destined to be rejected by the international community and doomed to failure.

It is self-evident which of these world orders should prevail. And it is crystal clear that it is the US rather than China that is challenging the post-WWII international order. China is a staunch force for the peaceful and equitable world order and a firm opponent of the US version of world order that champions hegemony and power politics.

Moreover, China is an advocate for reform of the current world order. China maintains that the UN, and the World Bank, the IMF and other international financial institutions should progress with the times, carry out institutional reform to reflect the principles of equity and justice, and increase the representation and voice of developing countries. The US and a few other Western countries have also advocated a so-called “reform”, saying that some principles of the UN Charter are out-of-date and should be modified. What they regard as outdated are actually such core principles as equality, mutual non-aggression and non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs. These principles are the soul of the contemporary world order reflecting the fundamental interests of all countries. They are full of sustained vitality and relevance and should not be discarded in the name of “reform”. Thanks to the resistance of the vast majority of members of the international community, the US attempt has failed thus far.

The jostling of the UN and US versions of world orders is still under way. The outcome of the competition bears on the future of the whole world. Now the UN version has the upper hand, but the US remains the sole superpower in the world; it will not give up its attempt at a unipolar world order and will continue to interrupt and challenge the UN version of world order. This will continue to be a major negative factor in the evolution of the international landscape and international relations. Such an unwise practice on the part of the US ultimately will be heavy baggage that will only result in accelerating its decline.

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