Although there is a Global consensus, in general, on multilateralism, the connotation of multilateralism varies from country to country.
China sees multilateralism as a process of establishing relations among countries to improve global governance and strengthen free trade under the framework of the World Trade Organization.
Multilateralism, for China, comprises certain qualitative principles including indivisibility of interests among participating countries and a mechanism to settle disputes, which shape the character of regional and global arrangements. Multilateralism is also about seeking common grounds and shelving differences.
Addressing the virtual event of the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda on Monday, President Xi Jinping reiterated the benefits of multilateralism and globalization which were challenged by the Donald Trump administration’s unilateralism and protectionism.
In common with almost all other countries, China opposes unilateralism, and emphasizes that “multilateralism is about addressing international affairs through consultation” and deciding the future of the world by “working together”.
By further integrating its economy with the global economy and continuously increasing its contributions to economic globalization, China has helped make globalization more inclusive, balanced and beneficial for all. And its Belt & Road Initiative has energized globalization and multilateralism.
China’s concept of multilateralism is very different from that of the United States and the European Union.
What the US practices can be best described as “selective” multilateralism, which is discriminatory and exclusive, and reflects US exceptionalism.
Also, the US projects American values as universal values, US-centric rules as international rules, and the US-led alliance system as multilateralism.
And the fact that Joe Biden, the new US president, has decided to continue the US’ high-tech alliance and so-called democratic alliance with its friendly countries and not fully abandon the anti-China policies of Trump shows even the new administration, despite its welcome rhetoric about starting afresh, is selective about discarding unilateral policies－perhaps in the hope of maximizing US interests.
So far as the EU is concerned, as an economic bloc comprising 27 Member States, it stresses the importance of multilateralism but tends to extend EU norms to multilateral rules, and even though China and the EU have a broad understanding on multilateralism, the bloc is deeply influenced by its close security and military ally, the US.
A truly international organization should be a platform that upholds the validity of multilateralism. The United Nations is a truly international organization, and the UN Charter is widely accepted as a guideline for international relations. That’s why China has proposed that the UN oversee the development of inclusive multilateralism.
As the world’s largest developing country that pursues an independent and peaceful foreign policy, China extends its people-oriented domestic governance principle to human rights, and on the principle of sovereignty, it opposes any kind of external interference while upholding the UN Charter.
In a multilateral arrangement, differentiated obligations should be based on individual countries’ national strength, especially their economic strength.
In his speech on Monday, Xi said that since the problems facing the world are intricate and complex, they can be addressed only by promoting multilateralism and building a community with a shared future for mankind.
And to achieve that, countries need to stay committed to openness and inclusiveness instead of closeness and exclusion; follow international law and international rules instead of seeking one’s own supremacy; consult and cooperate with each other instead of engaging in conflict or confrontation; and keep up with the times instead of rejecting change.
In addition to solving problems of non-inclusiveness and unsustainable development, multilateral platforms are also needed to help reform the global governance system.
Multilateralism is the natural outcome of the diverse histories, cultures, political systems and institutions of different countries and operates on the premise that countries should decide their own destiny without being marginalized or subjected to conditions.
Therefore, countries must choose their own development path based on their national conditions, and pursue peaceful coexistence based on mutual respect and mutual learning. This is the way to add impetus to multilateralism and human civilization.