The Guardian • Issue #2102

For peace and development

China’s ‘Shared future for humankind’

Shared future for mankind.

For over a decade the People’s Republic of China has established the policy framework “Shared Future for Humankind” (literally in Chinese, 훙잚 츱頓 묾谿竟, rénlèi [humanity] mìngyùn [destiny] gòngtóngtǐ [community]), beginning in 2013. It’s a central aspect of President Xi Jinping’s wider governance philosophy, and in particular Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy.

In 2017, Xi said, “China has grown from a poor and weak country to the second largest economy not through military expansion or colonial plunder, but through the hard work of its people and their efforts to uphold peace.”

A 2023 White Paper on Shared Future, released by the State Council Information Office, affirmed that “China has never accepted that once a country becomes strong enough, it will invariably seek hegemony.”  In contrast with some major countries in the world today, China does not view its success as leading to the failure of others. Rather: “When the world thrives, China thrives.”

That’s the essence of Shared Future: taking lessons from history, including its own, in pursuit of a better future for the world. China rose through the hard work of socialist construction at home, not through colonial plunder abroad. Thus it understands that nothing is more important for major-country diplomacy than to uphold peace and encourage development.

It’s important to note at the outset that key concepts in Chinese Marxist philosophy, like Shared Future, are always evolving. They are neither dogmatic nor fixed: they respond and adapt to changes in the world environment. The Shared Future concept is also interwoven with other concepts and initiatives, like the Chinese Dream, ‘Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Dual Circulation Strategy,’ and most recently the development of New Productive Forces. The “Five Principles for Peaceful Coexistence,” dating back to a 1954 agreement between China and India, may be considered a precursor to Shared Future.

There are several specific and rooted aspects to Shared Future for Humankind, however, that need strong emphasis:

1. A multilateral outlook on human rights. A focus on longstanding bodies like the United Nations and an adherence to the fundamental law of the UN Charter. ‘Multilateral’ means involving multiple, many countries, as opposed to ‘unilateral’ (one country) or ‘bilateral’ (two countries).

2. Respect for the ‘diversity of civilisations’ in the interests of peace and mutual ‘win-win’ benefit. Implicit here is how win-win counters the imperialist mindset of ‘win-lose’ (winner takes all, zero-sum gain mentality) which more often than not becomes lose-lose. The phrase ‘diversity of civilisations’ suggests associated terms that have gained currency lately like ‘multipolarity’ or ‘pluripolarity,’ but the key here is equal respect for all civilisations in equal degree. This is reflected in more recent ‘inter-civilisational’ Chinese proposals like the Global Civilisational Initiative (GCI). It also draws from the best of ancient Chinese wisdom, as Xi said in 2014: “A single flower does not make spring, while one hundred flowers in full blossom bring spring to the garden. The Chinese civilisation and other civilisations in the world are all fruits of human progress.”

3. A concern for raising the level of the productive forces in poorer, developing countries. This means special focus on the Global South, and African, Arab, Asia-Pacific, and Eurasian partnerships, but not ‘decoupling’ from Europe or the West per se. From the perspective of socialist foreign policy history, this is an evolving way for a large and domestically successful socialist country to conduct foreign policy in a new era. In the time of the Soviet Union, from Stalin to Brezhnev, similar calls were made for peace and development, and efforts were made to support anti-colonial struggle, many successful. The Shared Future concept is mindful of history (from the wars of the early twentieth century, to the National Liberation movements throwing off the yoke of imperialism mid-century, to the Cold War of the late twentieth century), and hard-won efforts towards establishing the ground for peace and development. But while it retains some core elements of twentieth-century socialist diplomacy, it goes beyond the Soviet mold. It could be considered a new model for socialist diplomacy in the twenty-first century.

From these three fundamental aspects it becomes clear that the Shared Future for Humankind concept is quite different from foreign policy outlines of Western countries. Major Western countries more and more tend towards a rigid and fixed view of diplomacy: there are winners and losers, rich countries and poor countries, friends and foes, a first world and a third world. China does not begin with this black and white, either/or attitude. I want to again emphasise that it is ‘evolving’ because it is dynamic, not dogmatic, adaptable to new circumstances, not fixed, with the core aim being to invite any and all who wish to participate.

One other thing worth mentioning is that this is how Marx and Engels tended to write and think. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, has emphasised that Xi Thought on Diplomacy “encapsulates the latest achievement of Marxism on the diplomatic front in the 21st Century,” quoting Engels: “His [Marx’s] way of viewing things is not a doctrine but a method.” Most importantly, Chinese Diplomacy follows dialectical and historical materialism: “by following the Marxist tradition of analysing the dynamics between the productive forces and the relations of production, between the economic base and the superstructure.”

Finally on a personal note, the method of Shared Future (since it is more of a method than a doctrine), which comes from the CPC, also enjoys broad support among the Chinese working masses; one thing I was quite astonished at while living in China, where I worked for half a decade, was the extent to which the country was becoming internationalist in its outlook – not “globalised” in the way we tend to think of it – but deeply internationalist. It’s visible in the way China takes the best of what it can learn from the outside without losing inner strength, which, we must add, is a core socialistic strength. It’s truly global in a visible way. At festivals I attended and classes I taught, I met people from all corners of the globe: not just Europe and America, but Africa, the Baltics, the ‘stans’ (Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, etc), Mongolia, Belarus, Russia, and especially Latin American countries with whom China enjoys a close relationship. This is also the case in the way China manages its socialist market economy and trade. The wine section in their supermarkets, for instance, is usually arranged by continent, with an even showing from each continent: no one continent wins out. There’s no embargo on Cuban, Syrian or Russian products, just as there’s no longstanding embargo on Western products. There’s a sense that China wants to learn the best from every civilisation, from all countries, including but not limited to ‘the West.’

All five socialist countries on earth today – Korea, Laos, Vietnam, China, and Cuba – have evolved in different ways, and taken different paths. They are not carbon copies of each other: there’s no one-size-fits-all model for socialism. Yet they all have one thing in common: an adherence to Marxism-Leninism. China’s path is unique. China as I experienced it was profoundly, deeply open to the outside world, while maintaining its fine traditional culture and socialist orientation. It fully engages with the outside world but doesn’t ‘lose’ itself to that outside world. It’s a dialectic which also allows for the modernisation of Chinese culture; the idea that ancient civilisational wisdom doesn’t stop when the internet or some other advanced technological change comes along. These changes can be harnessed for the people’s benefit, to enhance rather than destroy culture.

China applies Marxian dialectics to foreign policy through the method of the Shared Future for Humankind. Needless to say, China’s adherence to Marxism-Leninist method in its quest for peace and development is a shining star amid a world in peril.

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