‘Community of shared future’ crucial to international law innovation

By LUO HUANXIN / 02-22-2018 / (Chinese Social Sciences Today)

The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted at its 34th session two resolutions in March, 2017, which clearly called for efforts to build a “community of shared future for mankind.” This is the first time that the concept is incorporated into the Human Rights Council resolutions, making it an important part of the international human rights discourse. (XINHUA)

As the integration of science, technology, economy and information deepens, it becomes clear that there are no more purely domestic issues on the planet earth. Instead, in the context of globalization, domestic and international issues become intertwined, and so do various ethnic and religious conflicts, nuclear crisis, ecological deterioration, large-scale migration, terrorism and other types of conflicts, showing an increasingly complex global landscape.

It should be noted that in an interdependent world, only when countries tolerate each other’s cultural, institutional and ideological differences and focus on common interests, can they form an international order that is beneficial to all humankind.

In this light, China’s vision of a “community of shared future for mankind” contains profound thinking on international governance and humanity’s future, and is of great significance to the innovation of international law.


Beyond nationalism
In the mainstream Western perspective, international law is the expression of national interests and will as well as a form of international communication among sovereign states. The UN Charter, which was issued after World War II, embodies the most recognized norms of international relations and forms the bedrock of international law. The international rule of law established thereafter, thus governs the world with a focus on the nation-state.

As a result, the traditional nation-centered logic has laid the basis of norms of social order that mainly apply to states, whereas international organizations and individuals are relegated to a secondary position, which inadequately addresses the overlap between domestic and international affairs. Issues of global interests are inevitably overlooked in this mindset.

In reality, problems emerging in the process of globalization are either portrayed as a matter of universal values that conform to the interests of superpowers or explained in various narratives in the form of slogans. At root, the policies that target these problems only take into account the interests of individual nations rather than the greater good.

In the United Nations and many other international platforms, the goals and values of universality have also been highlighted, but they can hardly transcend the established framework, which places the nation-state at its center. These institutions still regard international relations primarily as a relationship between states and international law as an inter-state law based on the consensual treaties and customs.

Hence, in the process of treaty negotiation, it is only natural for states to see the national interests and not that of the world. In view of this, Eastern and Western scholars alike have pointed out that mankind is facing tests and transition in a new era. They recognize the limitations of a postwar international governance system dominated by the core Western values, and that the existing individual vs. collective, ethnical vs. national, religious vs. extremism, and other opposing concepts cannot explain or solve the increasingly complex problems of globalization.

On the other hand, the idea of a “community of shared future for mankind” is not a denial of the equal status of sovereign states. Rather, it sees the world as an interdependent and inseparable unit and redefines the long-term interests, values and responsibilities of human society from an integrated perspective.

This perspective of “observing the world in the world” transcends the national egotistical values of “observing the world from a nation” to include both national interest and global interests. As Lao Tzu said in Tao te Ching: “By what is proper to the country, observe the country. By what is proper to the world, observe the world.” To put it simply, the world is greater than individual nations, so one cannot understand the world from the perspective of a single state.

China’s vision of human society is a community of shared future that goes beyond the fate of a nation to focus on the welfare of mankind and beyond the unilateral value to seek common values.
Accordingly, China has set an example by not only actively promoting the establishment of the BRICS New Development Bank, but also founding the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, with unprecedented investment and support for the large-scale “Belt and Road” initiative.


Divisive logic
Though peace and development comprise the mission of the UN Charter, the world is still divided into different ethnic, religious or ideological camps and gripped by the binary opposition of democratic vs. non-democratic, human rights vs. inhumanity, sacred vs. heretical, and developed vs. failed countries, which is essentially a divisive way of understanding the world.

Action is always the expression of thought. All the complex terrorism, ethnic and religious divergence, or the clash of civilizations, such as war, persecution and conquest, could be attributed to the ideological roots of divisive thinking. Once states negate the commonality of human destiny and the united nature of the world, humanity will inevitably be exclusive in action on the basis of its own imagined divisive world, thus resorting to force or political, economic and cultural conquest and colonization. This is the basic mindset of nation-centered thinking and driven by this thought, the developed countries have created quite some tragedies in human history in their rise.

Some scholars pointed out that the West’s obsession with conquest is out of a sense of duty either consciously or subconsciously. For American sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein, “a world system is a social system, one that has boundaries, structures, member groups, rules of legitimation and coherence. Its life is made up of the conflicting forces that hold it together by tension and tear it apart as each group seeks eternally to remold it to its advantage.”

In a sense, the roots of global crises do not lie in the wealth gap or the ecological disaster caused by the rapid expansion of technology and materialism, but the divisive view of the world held by different nationalities, religions and countries.

However, the concept of a “community of shared future for mankind” stresses that the integrity of the world is not formed by the exclusive homogeneity, but depends on the harmony of internal diversity. As Chinese classics I Ching revealed, the yin and yang, two contrasting but mutually compensating components constitute unity in harmony. Neither yin nor yang alone could achieve unity by itself.

Therefore, Chinese culture upholds the idea of “seeking harmony without uniformity.” In order to achieve true equality, we need to recognize the reality of inequality and that true harmony could only be realized through respecting different existence. This kind of thought is faithful to the pluralistic world and has a chance to avoid the divisive thinking from its origin.


Major country responsibility
The nation-centered worldview tends to categorize countries based on cultural or ideological proximity, grouping countries into multiple worlds that compete with one another at all times. In such logic, the powerful side inevitably attempts to coerce and suppress the weak so that it could not resist. This power logic only encourages the law of the jungle, causing the weak to lose trust or even turn to extremism.

Under the framework of divisive thinking and the power system, the weak have neither the obligation nor the willingness to cooperate with the powerful to maintain their oppression and exploitation. For the weak, it seems only logical to fight for survival. To a large extent, this is the hidden truth of the current regional wars, national conflicts, hegemony and terrorism.

Since World War II, there have been no large-scale conflicts, but the world is hardly peaceful. In a gross estimation, by 2015, there had been more than 200 regional wars and armed conflicts, resulting in more than 20 million deaths, equivalent to twice the number of deaths in the World War I.

The concept of a “community of shared future for mankind” depicts a world in which the fate of all countries is linked. Based on this, we need to redefine the responsibility of the major countries, focus on the long-term interests of mankind, and call on the major powers to invest in regional and global order as much as possible.

To this end, China has mapped out the ambitious “Belt and Road” initiative without pursuit of uniformity, upholding a spirit of peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning, and mutual benefit.

Though the concept of a “community of shared future for mankind” originates from the ancient traditional Chinese culture of “harmony,” it is in essence an insight into the real appearance of today’s world and the fundamental demand of human beings against the backdrop of globalization. Problem-oriented and with a sense of responsibility, China’s vision integrates domestic and international issues and considers humanity as a whole by transcending the mainstream nation-centered mentality in international law and individualism prevalent in Western culture.

The goal of international law is to maintain international peace and security. Therefore, building a community of shared future and adopting the methodology of “observing the world in the world” will greatly help to update the concept of international law.


Luo Huanxin is from the Institute of International Law at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

(edited by YANG XUE)