By Moshi Israel
President Xi Jinping introduced the GCI in his March 15 Keynote speech to the CPC High-Level Dialogue with World Political Parties. The GCI completes a tri-set of three initiatives including the Global Development Initiative (GDI) and the Global Security Initiative (GSI). These initiatives, it should be noted, represent China’s vision for the world of tomorrow. China attempts to approach problems differently, veering away from what is seen as the failures of the current ‘rules-based international order’ headed by the United States and its allies, commonly referred to as ‘the collective West.’
The GCI, in a sense, refutes the idea of “my way or the high way” and advocates for respecting the diversity of civilizations while opposing the imposition of certain values and models on others by a select few. It advocates for a drive toward realizing the common aspirations of peace, development, equity, justice, democracy, and freedom. It rejects the notion that only a few civilizations hold a monopoly over what is considered ‘right or the way.’
Critics of the GCI assert that, when combined with the GDI and GSI, these programs represent only China’s substitute for the LIO (Liberal International Order), which is dominated by the West. One viewpoint is that China just wants to take the place of the West and establish its own power globally. Opponents argue that while the current international rules-based order may not be flawless, it has primarily contributed to unparalleled wealth and world peace, especially for China, which has benefited from the order to get to where it is now. Furthermore, critics pile upon China, accusations of not respecting its own proposals of peaceful development and non-interference by pointing to the skirmishes in the South-China Sea and tensions with Taiwan.
However, all this criticism from mostly Western ideologues, politicians, scholars, pundits, and political commentators is far-fetched and always reaching. It is mostly verbal posturing backed by as much information as one can find in a newspaper headline. Most of the criticism is a repetition of tired tropes against China bought and paid for by anti-China political establishments in Western capitals. It is telling that most critics of China fail to establish the difference between ‘hate of the West’ and disdain for a rules-based order that is drenched in a hypocritical game of ‘rules for thee and not for me.’ It is not hate when one challenges your ideals.
China like many other countries has had squabbles and skirmishes with its neighbors. But to point to this and claim it as evidence of Chinese aggression and therefore dismiss any proposals from the country as mere propaganda is intellectual dishonesty. Considering, especially, the crimes and atrocities committed by Western countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America under the guise of the rules-based international order. To the critics of China, it is fair game to often bring u the country’s (often exaggerated or non-existent) shortcomings when comparing it with the West but it is considered ‘whataboutism’ when Western hypocrisy is pointed out in political discourse.
It, therefore, skips the minds of Western political thinkers that it is this clear understanding of their hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty in defending, dismissing, ignoring, and at times advocating for all the ills of Western hegemony that inspires the creation of such concepts as the GCI, GDI, and GSI. This is not to say, that there is no criticism of the Western disastrous foreign policy from Western citizens and elites, it exists and it is loud, however, it often has no significant impact and often fades into the background.
The GCI is China’s way of encouraging global south modernization without the need for Westernization. Indeed, the GCI is largely aspirational and would require enormous political will to put into practice, however, this in no way makes it obsolete or irrelevant. Today’s leading global institutions were all once an idea on paper, a concept and ideal to aspire to, and with grinding effort, they have been established and can function as practical entities tackling world problems, despite all their shortcomings. The next important step for China and the willing coalition of Global South countries is to rapidly institutionalize these concepts to test out their practicability on the international stage.
Furthermore, GCI encourages mutual learning and inter-civilizational exchanges, which is a welcome idea at a time when the world is increasingly disintegrating along religious, ideological, and civilizational lines. There is an obvious divide in political thought between the West and the East, with Western views of democracy working for many but not all, and Eastern views of democracy working for some but not all. The idea behind GCI is for the world to strike a balance and seek compromise under these circumstances. ‘Diversity is our strength’ is a common slogan in Washington, London, Brussels, and other Western capitals during domestic political discourse. However, this notion flies out the window when it comes to the international stage, the reason being the West prefers to practice realpolitik outside its borders. China through the GCI is standing up for itself and the entire global south and asking for a modicum of respect for their culture and values, which is bizarrely looked at by the West as a rebellion against the rules-based international order.
One of the most prevalent criticisms of China’s GCI, GSI, and GDI is the one directed at the ambiguity of the idea of non-interference. Understandably, China does not seek to be the world’s policeman, but at what point does China draw the line when another country blatantly violates international law and the rights of its citizens? China has attempted to address this issue by engaging in relentless diplomacy to broker peace and ensure stability. The recent Iran-Saudi peace deal is one example that shows the incredible results diplomacy can achieve.
However, going forward, China has to figure out a sustainable solution for crimes committed by leaders against their own people. Many Citizens in the Global South continue to suffer under the oppressive regimes of ruthless and unpatriotic leaders and would look to China to address this issue. Therefore, Beijing has to come up with practical solutions to tackling these geo-political headaches without resorting to Western methods of operation. Otherwise, many citizens from the Global South will always turn to the West in search of rescue from despots.
Overall, the GCI is a necessary concept that can lead to a better world full of mutual learning, trust, and understanding. This can be achieved through inter-civilizational exchanges and people-to-people diplomacy. The Global South has largely welcomed China’s ideas for a multi-polar world of tomorrow and believes in the aspirations put forward by the CPC. Currently, only China seems to be looking forward as most other powerful countries look and cling to the past for answers.
The Writer is a Senior Research Fellow with Sino-Uganda Research Centre (SURC).