Published: 00:28, July 10, 2024
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Now is the time to restore respect between countries
By Ho Lok-sang

This year is a major election year for many countries. Just last week, the Labour Party won the election and Sir Keir Starmer has become the United Kingdom’s 58th prime minister. In Iran, reformist Masoud Pezeshkian won the presidential election over rival Saeed Jalili, beating his hard-line conservative rival. Not long ago, Narendra Modi won a third term as prime minister in India. The European elections in 2024 took place from June 6 to 9. Ursula von der Leyen is now set to continue to serve as president of the European Commission for another five years. In the United States, Joe Biden and Donald Trump have had their first debate in the run-up to the election in November, which will decide who is going to be the president of the United States in the next four years.

The global political landscape is changing. The global challenges are intensifying. Humankind and the world have never faced the existential threats that we face today. For one thing, global temperatures have kept rising; extreme weather has become rampant and more destructive; water security is at risk; food security is at risk. The ocean and freshwater bodies are increasingly contaminated. Yet many of our political leaders are not really paying attention, and, instead, appear to be gearing up for a major war.

In the West, influential pundits continue to call for fighting China till America wins the “competition”. In April, Matt Pottinger and Mike Gallagher wrote in Foreign Affairs an article titled No Substitute for Victory: America’s Competition With China Must Be Won, Not Managed. China has never waged a war against any country nor occupied any territory, nor has it ever overthrown any government anywhere. Its territorial claims never exceeded what China claimed before 1949. Why do Pottinger and Gallagher perceive China as a threat?

Should I remind them that players in a competition should never say the competition must be won? The US, as well as every country, must play fair, which means respecting the rights of competitors to compete without any encumbrances.

To tackle our common threats that are real and survival-threatening, we need to work together. Now is the time and possibly the last chance to restore the respect between countries so that peaceful cooperation is possible.

In a recent column, I discussed how I extended my happiness formula comprising Love, Insight, Fortitude, and Engagement (LIFE) to the corporate world, and how recent articles in the Harvard Economic Review and from the Gallup Poll reached similar conclusions that I did in 2012. I would venture to say that the LIFE framework can be extended to global governance. If countries of the world care about life and Love, if they have the Insight to see the big picture and to care for sustainable development, if they have the Fortitude to learn from their mistakes and to face adversities as a team, and if they put their good ideas into action and Engage in tackling the problems that we face, the world will be safe from disaster. Applying the LIFE framework to global governance requires respect for other nations.

President Xi Jinping’s Global Development Initiative, Global Security Initiative, and Global Civilization Initiative are all manifestations of the principle of respect of all nations as equal partners, and are founded on Love for the people, Insight with the long view and the big picture perspective, Fortitude and the aptitude to confront difficulties, and Engagement with all partners who agree to an open, multilateral world consisting of partners of equal standing.

Speaking at the Boao Forum in 2021 under the theme of “A World in Change”, President Xi lamented “the four deficits” that humanity is facing: a “growing governance deficit, trust deficit, development deficit, and peace deficit”, further asking: “What is humanity’s way forward?” This was taken up by the authors in an article published on the Atlantic Council’s website in June last year as Beijing’s superpower struggle with the United States.

If the US is willing to engage China as an equal partner with respect, may I ask if the authors of that article think the four deficits are imagined and not real? Can an equal partner raise questions? Can an equal partner suggest a way forward that is inclusive and that welcomes the US to join in? Is the US really playing a fair game and treating China as an equal partner? Is asking to be treated fairly as an equal “too intrusive”?

Authors of the Atlantic Council article mocked the cause of “noninterference” and the call for respecting “the independent choices of development paths and social systems made by people in different countries”, saying this translates into allowing “authoritarian regimes to hold as much legitimacy as democracies”. They seem to be unaware of the rigorousness of the selection process for China’s leadership and China’s governance mechanisms that hold government officials accountable for power abuses. Branding a different political system that is designed to better serve the people “authoritarian” is either ignorance, or disrespect, or conceit.

In realpolitik, countries do have their national interests in mind. But time is running out, and we really need to address the pressing issues in a more enlightened way. That will not be possible without respecting other countries’ rights that they deserve as a nation.

The author is director of the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.