By Elenoire Laudieri
Since the beginning of modern history, which is commonly traced back to the discovery of America, the West has regarded itself as a universal civilization and has sought to impose itself, by any means necessary, on the rest of the world.
For most of the last 200 years, the West has held sway over many countries and territories across all continents, including China, which in the mid-19th century, was assaulted twice by Western powers and forced to surrender to their demands for trading rights and ports. The pillaging of the Summer Palace by British and French troops, during the Second Opium War, ranks among the most shameful acts of cultural vandalism.
Today, with the US struggling to sustain its geopolitical ascendancy and Europe grappling with financial problems and the rise of nationalist and populist movements, the West is faced with an uncertain future.
On the contrary, China, which recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of the economic reform and opening-up, thinks big. Bold projects launched by President Xi Jinping, for example the Belt and Road initiative, a regional infrastructure program designed to improve China’s connectivity with the rest of the world, are emblematic of China’s confidence in the future.
There is no doubt that globalization has been a powerful force for China’s phenomenal growth. As exports surged from $257 billion in 2000 to $2.4 trillion in 2016, China became the world’s top exporter. But while China’s policymakers made sure that the wealth produced by globalization was steered toward the common good and lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, in the West it amplified inequality. Across Western economies, two-thirds of households experienced stagnating or declining income while the wealthiest few realized tremendous gains.
Hence, it is not globalization itself that has undermined living standards in the West but governments’ failure to prevent it from enriching the few to the detriment of the many.
The West needs policies helping workers to adjust to fast-moving labor-market shifts, whether caused by foreign competition or automation technologies. Additional priorities include broadening participation in the digital economy and launching infrastructure projects that can boost demand and productivity which is what the Chinese government has been doing.
China does not want to dominate the world as some Western analysts suggest. It has never shown such an ambition, so much so that for most of its plurimillennial history, it shut itself off from the rest of the world minding its own business so to speak.
Since deciding to integrate itself into the world order and becoming the second largest world economy, China has espoused the ideal of a more equitable global governance and development which is best expressed in the concept of a “community of shared future for mankind” set down by President Xi as China’s foreign policy guideline.
This approach is based on the recognition of the economic interconnectivity of all nations as a global community that is both interdependent and increasingly integrated and it is founded on three mainstays: cooperative security, common development, and political inclusiveness.
Every nation must be free to determine the way in which it is governed―in so far as it adheres to the purposes and principles of the United Nations―and to pursue its own path of economic and political development.
There is no single model that can be applied universally and this, far from being a negative factor, prompts nations to check their own shortcomings and to strive for the greater good of their people.
As China is growing stronger, it will play a crucial role in making the world more secure and more inclusive and in building a “community of shared future for mankind.”
(The author is a sinologist who is chief analyst in Chinese Affairs for Nato College Foundation and a regular contributor to international geopolitical reviews and publications. [email protected])