If the Munich Security Conference acts as a barometer to gauge world politics, this year has shown quite contradictory trends confrontation and cooperation, and unilateralism and multilateralism.
Also Read: Transcript Yang Jiechi’s Keynote Speech.
In a world full of uncertainties and contradictions, China showed itself to be a staunch supporter of global cooperation and multilateralism, and its efforts to maintain the world order have been endorsed at the security conference.
Who will Pick Up Pieces
“The Great Puzzle: Who Will Pick Up the Pieces?” asked the Munich Security Report published ahead of the conference. Last year, the report said the world was on the brink of significant conflict and predicted a new era of uncertainty.
This time around it seems the report went further, as it asserted that the world is returning to an era of great power competition.
At the opening session of the conference, British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson accused Russia of making the world a less safe place, and German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said Russia was dividing Europe.
Meanwhile, China said it hopes that the United States and Russia will return to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and also director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee, made the remarks after delivering a keynote speech at the 55th Munich Security Conference.
The unilateral declaration by the US to withdraw from the INF Treaty has serious consequences and has drawn widespread concern from the international community, he said.
Contradictions also exist within the Western bloc. German Chancellor Angela Merkel advocated cooperation and multilateralism, sharply criticising the United States’ policies on Syria, Iran and trade issues, while US Vice President Mike Pence in his successive speech ran counter to Merkel.
Igor Yurgens, chairman of the Moscow-based Institute for Contemporary Development, said right now it’s more about competition than cooperation in the world.
He added that diplomacy does not work, and people do not trust each other at all so that things are getting worse rather than better.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said: “Instability is increasing … and unfortunately we are seeing multilateralism getting more silent.”
Wang Yiwei, a professor specialising in international relations at the Beijing-based Renmin University, said in an interview that cooperation and competition always go hand-in-hand, but right now due to some unilateral and protectionist acts, competition prevails.
China’s Important Role
The Munich Security Conference used to focus primarily on European and transatlantic issues.
However, China has become a focus at the conference in recent years as it is playing an increasingly important role in global security issues.
In his keynote speech, Yang, head of the Chinese delegation, said unilateralism and protectionism have been on the rise, and the multilateral international order and global governance system are being challenged.
“China advocates a steadfast commitment to advance international cooperation, uphold and develop multilateralism, and make the international order more just and equitable,” Yang said.
“History tells us that we can only realise our peoples’ dreams for a better life by upholding multilateralism and enhancing global cooperation.”
Johann Wadephul, a member of the German Bundestag and deputy chairman of the parliamentary group of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, described this as “a very good speech.”
Wadephul said Yang’s speech seemed to advocate a multilateral system that he is optimistic would prevail in the world.
Besides Yang, other Chinese officials, former officials and scholars also exchanged ideas with other participants. They explained China’s major foreign policies that welcome global cooperation and multilateralism, such as the Belt and Road Initiative and the concept of a community with a shared future for mankind.
Wang said both China and Europe embrace multilateralism with the United Nations at its centre. Both sides stress equal consultation and participation, rather than making decisions alone.
Wu Shicun, president of China’s National Institute for South China Sea Studies, who took part in the conference, said: “On every occasion participants are talking about China … which showed that China has become strong and is approaching the centre of the global stage.”
China is assuming more global responsibility during its development, such as its efforts to safeguard global peace and security through UN peacekeeping missions, including anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden.
Alexander Vershbow, former deputy secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, said: “China obviously contributes its dynamic economy, participation in mutually beneficial trade and its increasing wealth to international development, as well as its infrastructure development such as the Belt and Road Initiative.
“I think China is becoming a contributor to global stability,” he said.
“Although not every project is perfect, I think it is a net contributor to global stability through global engagement.”
Charles Kupchan, who served as special assistant to former US President Barack Obama on national security, said: “One of the things I would like to see is China becoming a more regular contributor to the world’s public goods.”
“The AIIB is such a public good,” he said in reference to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank initiated by China.
“China has stepped forward, creating a vehicle for development assistance. It’s not really competing with other lenders. It works in many cases with the existing financial institutions.”