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Foreign Policy

Same Stage, Different Roles

Oct 08 , 2020
  • Sun Chenghao

    Assistant Research Fellow, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations
  • Wang Lei

    Assistant Research Fellow, Institute of World Political Studies, CICIR

As the United Nations marked its 75th anniversary against the backdrop of COVID-19, U.S. President Donald Trump took advantage of the occasion to throw dirt on China and the World Health Organization, reprising his campaign themes in an attempt to boost domestic support.

Trump was not only speaking to the global community but also to American voters, with COVID-19 and anti-China rhetoric having both become major themes in 2020 U.S. presidential elections.

To malign China and WHO as scapegoats, Trump must deny his own faults in tackling the pandemic, even as a recent book by Bob Woodward disclosed that Trump had intentionally lied to the public about the risks of the virus.

Trump attacked multilateralism on the most important stage in the world. The UN is the very essence of multilateralism. He argued that wise leaders always put the good of their own people and their own country first, rather than calling for or leading a concerted cooperation to fight a common challenge. This only undermined global confidence in the United States and its willingness to fight COVID-19. He also added that the UN must focus on the “real problems” of the world, such as terrorism, drug trafficking and the “ethnic cleansing of religious minorities.”

Facing the virus — and unlike Trump, who is eager to put his own political interest first — Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed that China puts people and lives first. This gave China a decisive victory in the fight against the epidemic and injected new energy into its economic recovery and development. It showcased the significant differences in governing philosophy, political systems and policy proposals between China and the United States.

First, China embraces globalization. In recent years, economic globalization has confronted some adverse trends, including the COVID-19 pandemic, which was a serious setback. However, China firmly maintains that economic globalization is an indisputable reality and a historical trend. It is true that there are problems with the old version of globalization and China supports an update.

Xi’s speech underscored this point again. He stressed that the core principle is to reduce the wealth and development gap. A proper balance should be reached between the government and the market, fairness and efficiency, growth and income distribution, and technology and employment to ensure development that benefits people from all countries in an equitable way.

Second, facing the virus and other global challenges, including climate change, China’s vision is to build a community with a shared future for mankind, and its policy approach is multilateralism. Xi’s speech stressed that all countries are closely connected and that humans share a common future. No country can gain from others’ difficulties or maintain stability by taking advantage of others’ troubles. China rejects attempts to build blocs to keep others out and opposes a zero-sum approach.

The facts show that the multilateral system became more prominent in the context of the pandemic. Now it’s more important than ever to uphold it and promote cooperation. To address global challenges such as viruses and climate change, the world needs to strengthen the role of the United Nations and work together in a multilateral manner. China reaffirmed its abiding commitment to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter.

Third, multilateralism means that countries resolve global issues through consultation, not by shirking their responsibilities. China also has the courage to make firm commitments on a range of global issues, to shoulder its international responsibilities and contribute to the world as is befitting a major country.

As Xi said, “In particular, major countries should act like major countries. They should provide more global public goods, take up their due responsibilities and live up to people’s expectations.” He announced new measures on climate change, South-South cooperation and fighting the coronavirus. China will scale up its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions by adopting more vigorous policies and measures, with the aim of having CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. It will also provide $50 million more to the UN COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan and another $50 million to the China-FAO South-South Cooperation Trust Fund (Phase III). These measures highlight China’s role as a leading power.

As two leading economies facing the global pandemic, China and U.S. are playing quite different roles on the world stage. People should expect that major countries would join hands to address common challenges and help the world recover from the pandemic. It’s still not too late for U.S. to change course and return to the track of pushing forward global cooperation, rather than “America first.”

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