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Society & Culture

Fighting the Coronavirus in the Right Spirit

Apr 03, 2020
  • Wang Fan

    Vice President, China Foreign Affairs University

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s idea of building a community with a shared future for mankind is not simply an abstract concept but an action-oriented goal for the 21st century. The COVID-19 virus provides a perfect opportunity, as it has run rampant around the world, with victims in more than100 countries.

Remember the American film “2012,” in which Earth is on the brink of catastrophe? All countries responded together to the common challenge. There is also the Chinese sci-fi movie “The Wandering Earth,” which depicts the unremitting efforts of humans to secure their survival when Earth has to be relocated. What these films have in common is that they each see Earth as a unit of the whole universe and home for all, and they illustrate how mankind can rise to address a shared threat. Each film has the same bottom line: If mankind fails to cooperate in dealing with existential threats, destruction will inevitably be our shared fate.

Since the end of 2019, Earth has been facing the severe challenge of COVID-19, which first spread widely in China. The virus obviously does not need a passport to travel around. As of March 10, a total of 114,500 COVID-19 cases had been confirmed in more than 100 countries. The World Health Organization raised its global risk level for coronavirus disease from high to very high, based on the spread. This is not the first time, and it certainly won’t be the last, that the world will be severely threatened by an epidemic.

With the appearance of the coronavirus, the concept of building a community with a shared future for mankind is no longer a mere lofty slogan. It suggests a practical mode of action to efficiently address the global challenge.

First, the concept such a community emphasizes a holistic way of thinking. People in the East and West may differ cognitively in certain respects, but as the Chinese scholar Zheng Yongnian once said, China’s thousands of years of history have given it a historical perspective and sense of depth rarely found among great powers. Therefore, it is able to deal with problems more patiently based on its unique collective experience.

By contrast, Western society emphasizes individualism, while Chinese people put the group first. This means individual interests must be coordinated with the overall interest; everyone needs to work together when dealing with problems. China’s multilateral diplomacy stems from this sort of thinking.

A community with a shared future for all mankind calls for a sharing of responsibility. A common threat facing all humanity is more urgent and challenging than the conflict between individual nations. Humans face a large number of common issues that transcend the nation-state, such as climate change, resource distribution, epidemics and other non-traditional security issues. There is no way that one country can cope with all of them. People who lend a helping hand to others in times of need may expect others’ help when they are in need. The coronavirus is a case in point: If you failed to extend a helping hand yesterday, you may suffer more today, simply because friendship and cooperation are two-way streets.

After the Cold War, non-traditional security threats are much bigger than traditional ones. The outbreak of coronavirus makes the point. In history, it has been proved many times that when great danger appears, humans can put previous resentments behind them and align with previous rivals. This means differences between countries are only relative and transformable, never absolute. The concept of a community with a shared future for mankind means people should act above their temporary interests and transcend ideological differences to unite and overcome difficulty for the benefit of all.

Second, this concept of a community with a shared future for mankind values an interactive way of thinking, meaning that no one should care only about his own interests but also those of others. When it comes to international politics, the core issue often boils down to conflicts of core interests. Traditional Chinese wisdom believes that when you help others, you help yourself in the bargain.

China has a deep cultural understanding of the profound significance of the relative balance between self-interest and altruism for sustainable development. The coordination of one’s own interests with those of others is the key to the resolution of international disputes.

There is a dialectic in both China and the West, as represented by the “Book of Changes” by ancient Chinese philosopher Ji Chang on one hand and the Western theory propounded by Germany’s Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. The Chinese see the world as a balance of yin and yang, while Hegel held that it has positive and negative aspects that compete. Hegel saw conflict, while China’s dialectic emphasizes complementarity.

The concept of a community with a shared future for all mankind values the use of complementary approaches to analyze and resolve problems. The differences between countries should not be a cause of conflict but rather serve as motivation for cooperation. Different systems and ways of dealing with problems can interact. People can learn from each other.

Third, the concept of a community with a shared future calls for coordinated thinking. Countries need coordination because of the sheer complexity of global affairs, the diversity of actors and the multiplicity of interests. We need to strengthen global governance through multiple methods, including coordination between great powers, both globally and regionally, to promote the peaceful transformation of the international system.

Humans must work together to avoid the “coexistence monologue” — speaking to oneself regardless of others’ concerns — and the so-called dilemma of collective action, which means everyone knows that something is a good thing and that concerted action is needed, yet there is an unwillingness to act. The result is that no collective action takes place.

In the face of dire challenges, we must not seek self-interest only. Facing with the threat of the COVID-19 epidemic, mankind must work hand in hand, abandon differences and collectively defeat the deadly virus that now threatening people’s lives. 

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