Commentary RESEARCH

True multilateralism


2024-04-02 09:01

China Daily

China pursues modernization without seeking hegemony, which is significant for the international order and the rule of international law

As the Joe Biden administration promised to "bring multilateralism back", the "rules-based international order" has become a buzzword in its diplomatic rhetoric. In international law, especially international economic and trade law, being "rules-based" is supposed to contrast with being "power-based", which deceptively adds some "legitimacy" to the United States' assertions.

In essence, the so-called "rules "are defined and interpreted by the US; and the so-called "rules-based international order" is also dominated and controlled by the US. So, what the US pursues is to put its domestic law over international law, prioritize regional international law over universal international law, and politicize international law. It is a selective multilateralism in the US style.

International law is a set of rules formed through specific procedures or methods that reflect the general consensus or broad agreement of the international community. However, the US deliberately weakens "state consent", an essential element of international legal rules, thereby instituting a basis to belittle the authority of current international law, breaking away from its constraints, and formulating its own "rules" that are in line with its national interests.

For example, the Office of the US Trade Representative explicitly states that any World Trade Organization provisions and their applications that are inconsistent with US laws are not effective within the US.US economic sanctions, especially secondary sanction measures, often violate international law and fundamental principles of international relations, affecting the sovereignty, security and development interests of other countries as well as the legitimate rights and interests of individuals and businesses. The "extraterritorial jurisdiction" stemming from US civil litigation rules keeps expanding and repeatedly infringes on the sovereignty of other countries, violates the international obligations assumed by the US and disregards the principle of "reasonableness" in international courtesy and international law.

The term "rules-based international order" and its use highlights the US-style selective multilateralism and serves as a more covert and misleading alternative to the "liberal international order". The US support for multilateralism was mainly driven by its core national interests aimed at seeking legitimacy, sharing responsibilities and maintaining leadership in international affairs, and it had a strongly practical and instrumental aspect. From this comes the common double standard of the US in international affairs, which is based on what is known as "American exceptionalism".

On the one hand, it requires other countries to abide by rules advocated by the US. On the other hand, it refuses to abide by rules that are unfavorable to it or incompatible with the kind of rules that it has in mind. This sort of instrumentalist and opportunistic approach of "using the rules if they are compatible and discarding them if they are not" is not true multilateralism, but selective multilateralism.

Openness and inclusiveness are the essence of true multilateralism, and they also mark the watershed between genuine multilateralism and selective multilateralism.

China has always adhered to the principles of openness and sharing. At the global level, China upholds the authority and effectiveness of multilateral institutions represented by the United Nations. At the regional level, it has initiated the establishment of organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and promoted the launch of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. China seeks strategic alignment and complementary advantages without replacing existing international mechanisms or forming exclusive cliques.

Inclusiveness means that the construction of the international order and the formulation of international rules must be able to accommodate and tolerate differences, whether they are differences in development stage, social system, or ideology.

In global climate change governance, China adheres to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. Regarding WTO reforms, China insists on special and differential treatment for developing countries. These are examples of inclusiveness. Some Western powers have long considered themselves as standard setters of the world. They fear that China's increasing influence on international norms may change the game rules they are comfortable with.

China, a representative of developing countries and emerging powers, should adhere to international law, take the lead in safeguarding the authority of international law, disprove the theory of "a strong country must seek hegemony" with concrete actions, and transcend the world historical narrative of the periodic law of hegemony.

The fragmentation of international law still persists to a considerable extent, with significant inadequacies in dialogue, consultation and coordination among various regions, mechanisms and arrangements, as well as a lack of global top-level design.

China's proposals for global development and security initiatives feature inclusiveness (aiming at all countries worldwide), equality ("initiatives" rather than "strategies" or "guidelines") and sharp focus (on development and security). The initiatives are capable enough to promote synergies among international mechanisms and arrangements.

In the post-hegemonic era, no single country has the ability to set rules for the world and support the effective operation of international systems. A pluralistic international community does not accept any single country dominating international affairs. Multilateralism and pluralistic co-governance are the inevitable choices. This objectively requires all countries in the world to abandon hegemony, confrontation, and "zero-sum" thinking and choose the path of consultation, dialogue and win-win results.

Currently, global governance is challenged by a lack of international public goods. International institutions and legal rules are needed to help tackle governance failures and promote the provision of public goods. As a responsible major country, China has launched the Belt and Road Initiative as a public good for the international community.

In the future, from the perspective of the international rule of law, while adhering to the multilateralist stance of extensive consultation, joint contribution, and shared benefits, efforts should be made to formalize and institutionalize the Belt and Road cooperation with enhanced legal governance. In this way, the BRI will become a sustainable international cooperation platform that is easier to expand.

The concepts of the "Chinese path to modernization" and the "new form of human civilization "support and advance multilateralism. Chinese-style modernization is a modernization that follows the path of peaceful development and does not seek hegemony, expansion, or spheres of influence. This is of particular significance for the multilateral international order and the rule of international law.

The author is deputy director-general and research fellow at the International Cooperation Bureau at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a professor at the Law School at the University of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.



2024-04-02 05:01
Technological revolution and state information capacity