China’s shared future for mankind

China's President Xi Jinping and South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa at the 10th BRICS Summit at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

China's President Xi Jinping and South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa at the 10th BRICS Summit at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 30, 2021


Anil Sooklal

The notion to “promote a sense of community of shared destiny for mankind” was first introduced at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in November 2012. Since then, President Xi Jinping has expounded on the notion on a number of occasions.

The idea of a community with a shared future for mankind was put forward by Xi at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations in 2013, to highlight China’s hope in establishing a harmonious world where all could live peacefully in a spirit of brotherhood.

The concept, or what is now considered as a vision, calls for the fostering of international relations based on mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win co-operation, and the building of a community with a shared future for mankind.

Xi, at the general debate of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in 2015, used the occasion to promote the concept of a community with a shared future for mankind, in a speech entitled “Working Together to Forge a New Partnership of Win-win Co-operation and Create a Community of Shared Future for Mankind”.

At the UN General Assembly’s 73rd session in 2018, the concept was incorporated into a UN committee resolution for the first time, and subsequently the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, called for development co-operation to contribute to “building a community of shared future for mankind” and now being frequently used by UN agencies and in international forums.

In January 2017, Xi expounded on the all-win co-operation concept at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos and called on all parties to uphold economic globalisation. 

The concept was further elaborated upon during the Belt and Road Forum for International Co-operation held in May 2017 in Beijing, and the BRICS Leaders Meeting in September 2017 in Xiamen, where China committed to building a community with a shared future for mankind by promoting international co-operation. 

The concept had become a frequently used term in China’s diplomacy, while in 2017 “building a community with a shared future for mankind” was included as a core concept and basic policy guiding Chinese diplomacy.

Judging from current global trends and the socio-economic disparities existing among developed and developing countries, this concept which represents China’s vision of a more just, secure and prosperous world order, has the potential, and promise to contribute towards a more equal and economically equitable world.

The community of a shared future offers the world Chinese wisdom and a new solution toward the advancement of human society. The idea is politically, socially and culturally inclusive of all societies with the end goal of building a world which is not only open and inclusive, but which enjoys lasting peace, universal security, and common prosperity.

Community of Shared Future for Mankind and China’s increasing global influence

Over the years, while acknowledging its increasing global influence and responsibilities, China has recognised the need to contribute towards maintaining peace and security, advancing sustainable development, and promoting international co-operation.

The vision for a community of shared future is the culmination of Xi’s ideas to improve the existing international order. While there is greater convergence among countries and regions, there is also a worrying trend towards increasing political divergence in the international community.

This does not augur well for the promotion of global peace, security, economic growth and development, and hence for China, working with the major players and other countries has become all the more important towards sustaining economic globalisation, maintaining the system of global governance and ultimately promoting a community of shared future, based on equal opportunity and access to economic wealth, development and growth.

Since the community of a shared future is inclusive of all countries and regions, the concept has direct applicability to the UN Sustainable Goals. In September 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that includes 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Building on the principle of “leaving no one behind”, the new agenda emphasises a holistic approach to achieving sustainable development for all.

However, the SDGs provide time-bound targets in key sectors – including health, education, employment, energy, infrastructure, and the environment, and while progress in some areas and countries has been encouraging, progress in Africa has been slow, albeit that the need for development is greater on the Continent.

In September 2019, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attended the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit at the UN headquarters in New York, where he linked the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with China’s commitment to development co-operation and hence its vision of a community of a shared future.

For China, co-operation is crucial towards achieving the goals of the AU’s Agenda 2063 and the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This reaffirms that China’s long-standing Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence: namely mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence, still apply to its foreign policy and external engagements today.

The contribution that China makes to the global community and towards multilateralism, stems from the remarkable progress that the Chinese government has made domestically, in terms of its internal reform process, its engagement with the outside world, and its integration into the global economy.

Obviously, because China is an upper-middle-income country and the world’s second largest economy, it is not only a significant contributor to global economic growth and development, but China also has an invaluable role to play in the international system, through its positions taken at multilateral platforms aimed at enhancing and promoting global peace and stability, as well as through its development projects, like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

China’s leadership at the global level has further been accentuated by the contribution the country has made in terms of supporting countries in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

After the world was affected by the pandemic, China immediately attached significant importance to promoting international co-operation, which included the sharing of information on the pandemic with the international community, providing bilateral and multilateral assistance to affected countries, particularly in Africa, as well as other forms of multilateral assistance.

Multilateral diplomacy – The pillars underpinning the community of a shared future

China is a strong proponent of multilateralism, and a committed advocate of reform of the international system and institutions of global governance. China has also made significant contributions to international development and upliftment especially of poorer less developed economies.

China’s “shared future for mankind” stems from its ancient doctrine of peaceful coexistence, friendship and co-operation. The political and security dimensions of a community of a shared future encapsulates China’s vision of a world order where sovereignty is respected and equality among states is maintained. China believes that disputes should be settled through dialogue, partnerships, and co-operation.

The economic, cultural and environmental pillars, demonstrate China’s vision for a globalised, socially integrated, interconnected world where countries collectively strive for common prosperity through win-win co-operation and partnerships.

Considering the technological and scientific advancements made over a few decades, this coincides with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or the New Industrial Revolution.

For China, economic growth and development is only sustainable if the international community embraces and takes advantage of the scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation. In this regard, industrial and productive capacity will lead to greater levels of economic growth and development only if scientific and technological advancements are harnessed.

Through President Xi Jinping’s doctrinal approach, the three pillars underpinning this community include: co-operative security, common development, and political inclusiveness.

In this regard, co-operative security first requires the management of security issues through consultation and co-operation. Given the increasingly complex global environment which is besieged with multiple non-traditional threats, co-operative security further envisages the utilisation of multilateral mechanisms to address security challenges and threats which transcend national boundaries.

Second, it requires the promotion of common development, since development reinforces security. Third, it requires political inclusiveness where China encourages global and regional co-operation to help developing countries and emerging economies to attain higher levels of development.

The Belt and Road Initiative, and the subsequent establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, demonstrate China’s implementation of its multifaceted free trade strategy with a focus of promoting economic growth and development, not only in the region, but with a clear vision for participating on the African continent.

For China, the BRI is linked to President Xi Jinping’s visit to Central and South-east Asia in September and October of 2013. He seized the attention of the world when he announced the development of the Silk Road Economic Belt (overland) and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road.

These concepts have gradually gained momentum, receiving the attention of experts from all over the world. In 2015 the Chinese government drafted and published the Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-century Maritime Silk Road to reconnect Asian, European and African countries more closely and promote mutually beneficial co-operation.

Africa-China Relations and the community of a shared future

Beijing is considered to have elevated Africa’s position in its foreign policy planning and increasingly regards the continent as a proving ground for this core foreign policy vision of “building a community with a shared future for mankind”.

To step up engagement with Africa in a more comprehensive and targeted manner, the administration is seen to have focused on the principles of sincerity, pragmatism, affinity, and good faith, while supporting it with major economic and financial initiatives, for example, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

It is said that China’s development and governance model represents an alternative to the hitherto under-delivering Western approach that has been practised by many African nations over the past decades.

Beijing respects Africans’ political and economic choices, but also stands ready to help the continent try new development approaches and amplify its voices on the world stage. Fostering political convergence, building mutual trust, promoting local industrialisation, increasing financial support for small and medium businesses, and ensuring infrastructure sustainability are the priorities for future China-African co-operation.

In terms of promoting development and growth on the African continent, China’s vision for a shared future has become increasingly relevant as this implies striving towards a common and mutually beneficial future, wherein Africa can meaningfully benefit and participate. As for South Africa, Africa is a foundational pillar of our foreign policy. Promoting peace and security as well as growth and development on the African continent thus remain fundamental in achieving the vision of a prosperous and peaceful continent.

Since China has advocated for a policy of peaceful development and the promotion of stability through development and economic growth, China has proved to be an ideal partner for the African continent and is integral move towards promoting growth and development in Africa. China’s engagement with the continent is underpinned by the China-Africa Forum of Co-operation (Focac), including its bilateral relations with African countries at political, economic, social and cultural levels.

The historically strong relations that exist between China and the African continent are further exemplified by Africa’s show of solidarity with China at the start of the outbreak of Covid-19. Due to a history of shared experiences, China and Africa supported one another during times of peril and hardship.

This relationship is cemented by a warm friendship, following the solidarity and mutual co-operation in addressing the pandemic. It is anticipated that the China-Africa community will undoubtedly become even closer, especially as China continues to promote its vision of a shared future. China is indeed a valuable partner and its economic and developmental support to the African continent is immeasurable.

South Africa-China Strategic Partnership

South Africa’s relationship with China is a strategic partnership. Both China and South Africa share the same objectives of promoting economic growth, development and prosperity, not only for their people but for their respective regions, as well as the world.

Economic growth and development is dependent upon the sustained growth and development of neighbouring economies, especially in other regions. In the case of South Africa, our country can only prosper if there is peace and sustained development on the African continent.

China is a long-established partner and a new investor in Africa. China wants to promote growth, development and peace on the continent, which is why enhancing co-operation with China is so important.

Economically, South Africa and China are strong business and trading partners. China is South Africa’s largest trading partner, and in 2020, total bilateral trade between South Africa and China amounted to R437 billion, which includes the trade figures of Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

However, our co-operation does not end with trade and investment, or with our collaboration in critical sectors, but has also included our mutual commitment to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. With that being said, China has made remarkable efforts to bring the outbreak of the virus under control.

It is equally important to highlight that South Africa continues to support China’s efforts in sharing its experiences in the fight against the virus with other scientific bodies and governments all over the world. In the context of the pandemic, South Africa made several donations to China in the form of medical equipment to assist China during the initial outbreak of Covid-19.

It is only through development, interconnectivity and integration that all regions and continents can prosper. In this regard, China’s vision of a shared future for mankind complements the objectives of development, interconnectivity and integration, and ultimately serves the ideal of promoting economic prosperity and development worldwide.

Ultimately, for all countries to be accorded an equal opportunity to develop and to prosper, countries need to have equal access toward economic prospects and diversified areas of engagement. In this context, the principles of non-interference and respect of national sovereignty is the keystone of South Africa’s foreign policy. Similarly, the principle of non-interference is reflected in China’s foreign policy.

In terms of South Africa-China multilateral co-operation, this is evidenced through our co-operation at the Focac as well as in BRICS. South Africa places special emphasis on its participation in the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) grouping.

China is a critical player in this formation, as well as key toward the advancement of the Agenda of the South. South Africa-China co-operation in BRICS illustrates that the partnership and friendship between our two countries stretch beyond the bilateral partnership to the multilateral arena, where we share similar views on many global issues.

South Africa’s strategic partnership with China is guided by the values that underpin our foreign policy, namely the goals of promoting peace, development and economic prosperity for our people and the world at large. In this regard, both South Africa and China share the aspirations to promote economic growth and development, mutual co-operation as well as the goals of eradicating inequality, poverty and unemployment. In the context of BRICS, all the BRICS countries share the goals of promoting peace, development and economic prosperity for our people and the world at large, and the BRICS member states share the same socio-economic concerns.

In Focac, South Africa’s co-operation with China is geared towards promoting the African Agenda and ensuring that support provided by China, is tailored to meet Africa’s needs particularly as they relate to the continent’s development goals and the AU’s Agenda 2063. For South Africa, it is important that Focac projects sponsored by China be aligned to the AU’s Agenda 2063 and that such projects address critical skills.

Launched in 2000, Focac is the result of the dynamic and expanding nature of China-Africa relations and it has served as a platform for South-South co-operation vis-à-vis China and Africa, and as a vehicle for the implementation of projects towards uplifting the African continent socially and economically. Focac is a model form of South-South co-operation, which demonstrates an incremental and practical approach to tackling development issues of mutual concern.

Focac is also considered a partnership between China and Africa (and not a traditional donor-recipient relationship), which contributes to addressing mutual concerns as they relate to growth and development, integration, trade and investment and to the unfair trade and financing practices of global financial institutions. With that being said, China’s community of a shared future complements the objectives of Focac, and ultimately serves as an overriding vision for the future implementation of Focac projects and Africa- China discourse.

China’s economic success has illustrated that the country is both an important contributor to inclusive economic growth on a global level, and the broader objectives of sustainable socio-economic development. It is without doubt that China will increasingly contribute to global development and be called upon to play a more active role in international efforts to enhance global governance and leading by example to uphold the multilateral rules-based system.

* Sooklal is Deputy Director-General, International Relations and Co-operation, BRICS & IBSA Sherpa, IORA Focal Point as well as Adjunct Professor.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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