“We must learn the lessons of history and dedicate ourselves to peace” Chinese President Xi Jinping once said.
For such reflection, the 75th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War, which falls on Thursday, presents a particularly suitable opportunity.
The world now is once again enveloped in extraordinary uncertainty. An invisible enemy of mankind, the COVID-19 pandemic, has claimed more than 860,000 lives worldwide.
And when global solidarity is desperately needed, the multilateral regime for peace and prosperity borne in the wake of the Second World War (WWII) has been under sustained assaults from its main architect the United States.
Apparently half-hearted about containing the coronavirus disease but eager to contain China, some U.S. politicians are sparing no effort to scapegoat Beijing and talk up a “new Cold War,” fueling fears for a divided and turbulent world ahead.
Unity or split? Peace or war? Humanity has arrived at yet another critical crossroads.
Xi has repeatedly proclaimed that China, which has peace deeply ingrained in its millennia-old national tradition, wants peace and stands ready to join forces with other members of the international community to safeguard peace.
In the sun-lit Acropolis Museum in Athens, Xi stopped before the “Mourning Athena,” a basso-relievo dated circa 460 B.C.. It was early November last year when he was on a state visit to Greece.
“Athena is resting and contemplating after fighting a war,” then Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos told Xi.
“Zhi Ge Wei Wu,” Xi said to Pavlopoulos, quoting a Chinese idiom, which means boldness lies in the suspension of hostility. “She is reflecting on what exactly war means.”
Although the world has not suffered any major war for over seven decades, peace and war have been a recurring theme in Xi’s remarks. War, he said, is the Sword of Damocles that still hangs over humankind.
However, not everyone sees peace as precarious as such. Even at a time when the world is reeling from a still raging pandemic and increasing destabilizing factors, some in the United States are intentionally stoking a “new Cold War” with China, risking the precious peace for short-term political gains.
With one U.S. provocation after another, frictions between the United States and China have spread from trade and technology to almost every aspect of bilateral relations.
Others have been watching closely as one of the world’s most important bilateral relationships spiralling downwards. They feared that a “new Cold War” would not only fracture the international community but also increase the risk of a hot war even if neither side desires it.
“China wants peace”
President Xi said in June at a meeting via video link with President of the European Council Charles Michel and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.
In fact, since long before the “Cold War” tag was trendy again, Xi has been sharpening the world’s vigilance against such a confrontational mentality.
One cannot live in the 21st century with outdated thinking from the Cold War and a zero-sum game, he said in 2014.
Three years later, he picked up the topic again when addressing the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Dialogue with World Political Parties High-Level Meeting.
Mankind was presented with two choices, he said, one is vicious competition or even armed conflict for power and self-interest, which may well lead to a disastrous crisis.
“The other is for us to go along with the tide of the times and rise to challenges through global collaboration,” he continued. “This, in turn, will create favorable conditions for building a community with a shared future for mankind.”
Zun of Pace
In the North Delegates Lounge inside the UN Headquarters, a popular place for diplomats and UN staff to meet and talk, stands a giant bronze bottle in Chinese red.
Modeled after a ritual object used in ancient China and officially named Zun of Peace, it is a gift from China to the United Nations to commemorate the world body’s 70th anniversary.
The work of art features dragon-shaped decorations on its top representing expectations for peace, as well as an elephant head and a phoenix on either side symbolizing world peace and well-being for all peoples.
The Zun of Peace, adorned with elements of the Silk Road, stands as a symbol of exchanges and mutual-learning between different civilizations and cultures in pursuit of common progress, Xi said at the unveiling ceremony.
Such inclusiveness conveyed in the art piece is an essential feature of Xi’s vision on how to secure and sustain peace
“Countries, whether big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, should all contribute their share to maintaining and enhancing peace,” Xi said in April 2013 at the opening plenary of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference, the first multilateral diplomatic event he hosted as Chinese president.
Four years later in Geneva, celebrated as the Capital of Peace, Xi reiterated that major countries should respect each other’s core interests and major concerns, manage their differences, and build a new model of relations characterized by non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and mutually beneficial cooperation.
Big countries should treat smaller ones as equals, instead of acting as a hegemon imposing their will on others, he added.
In another sign of China’s commitment to world peace, Xi brought another gift, along with the Zun of Peace, to the United Nations in the autumn of 2015 — a 10-year, 1-billion-U.S.-dollar China-UN peace and development fund.
China, he announced at the General Debate of the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly, would also set up a permanent peacekeeping police squad and build a peacekeeping standby force.
As a result, China, with more than 2,500 “blue helmets” across the world, is now the largest contributor of personnel to UN peacekeeping missions among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Peaceful, Pleasant, Civilized Lion
“Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world,” French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte once said of China.
As China grows, some resurrected the old prophecy to fan the fear that the Asian country would inevitably seek hegemony and become a threat.
“Today, the lion has woken up,” Xi said during a state visit to France in 2014. “But it is peaceful, pleasant and civilized.”
China will never seek hegemony, engage in expansion, or build its own sphere of influence, Xi has reiterated on multiple occasions. This pledge is inscribed in the July 2019 white paper of “China’s National Defense in the New Era” as a distinctive feature of China’s national defense policy.
“China’s pursuit of peaceful development is not an act of expediency, still less diplomatic rhetoric,” Xi said in March 2014 during a state visit to Germany.
“Rather, it is a conclusion we have reached based on an objective assessment of China’s history, its present and future”
Addressing the Fourth Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia two months later in Shanghai, he stressed that the tree of peace does not grow on barren land and the fruit of development is not produced amidst flames of war.
“For several millennia, peace has been the essence of our national tradition,” he said in his 2017 keynote speech at the UN Office at Geneva, pointing out that even when China’s GDP accounted for as much as 30 percent of the global total several centuries ago, China never engaged in aggression or expansion.
“To pass on the torch of peace from generation to generation, sustain development, and make civilization to flourish: this is what people of all countries long for,” he said.
“China will never waver in its pursuit of peaceful development,” he added. “No matter how strong its economy grows, China will never seek hegemony, expansion or sphere of influence. History has borne this out and will continue to do so.”