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Opinions of Thursday, 4 November 2021

Columnist: Olalekan Babatunde

The world is better with multilateralism

File photo to illustrate the story File photo to illustrate the story

Going by the increasing disposition to unilateralism, it is easy to assert that the world is inclining more towards self-seeking as against the promise made at the end of World War II in the establishment of the United Nations. That pledge among nations was to pursue common goals through cooperation and selflessness. After seven decades, the promotion of peace and security, eradication of poverty, diseases, illiteracy, unemployment, inequality, illegal migration and other challenges bedevilling humanity have not been won. Instead, nationalism, populism, protectionism, minority supremacy and the likes are becoming the existing world order. Other multilateral frameworks are not fair either.

We are now experiencing socio-political phenomena such as “make America great again”, individualism, unilateralism, “vaccine diplomacy”, “Brexit” and now “Polexit” appears loading by Poland with its defiant tone in the European Union clash. Nevertheless, there is a nuanced method to approach multilateralism if the world is going to be better to deliver on its promises especially for Africa and other developing worlds in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and the Pacific. That approach has been consistently demonstrated by one nation through its multilateral actions in kindness and courage. That country is China. China has shown an ability to coordinate diplomatic interaction of more countries than any in international politics in many strategic areas of the world – foreign, security, peace, technology, development, investment, and so on.

Therefore, when President Xi Jinping was speaking at the conference marking the 50th anniversary of the Restoration of the Lawful Seat of the People’s Republic of China on October 25, 2021, he indeed underscored why the nations should build “a community with shared future for mankind, and work together to build an open, inclusive and beautiful world that enjoys lasting peace, universal security and common prosperity.” For keen watchers of global events, one would see how multilateralism with Chinese characteristics is giving tangible meaning to the concept and practice of multilateralism. It has made multilateralism a central element of its foreign policy by seeking consensus through consultation and managing common affairs through cooperation for shared benefits and win-win results.

The strategies of China’s foreign policies to what the UN stands for in the last 50 years have been geared towards dedication to improving the welfare of all humanity and achieving global development through building multilateral cooperation and understanding. Altruism, pragmatism, and consistency that are at the core of multilateralism are essentially the epitome of China and intrinsic parts of its relations with the world. China is committed to its allies and partners and has rendered consistent, enduring and reliable support to the organisation. These qualities are worth examining.

First, there is no single country that has more bilateral and multilateral relations than China. As of 2021, there are about 140 countries, including 40 African countries, that have signed up with the Belt and Road Initiative, one of the successes of globalisation that is designed to provide infrastructure development and trade investment around the world. The initiative is quietly building a human community of shared destiny and prosperity. As of today, China is a member of all international intergovernmental organisations and over 500 international conventions.

Devoid of imperialist pasts and colonial legacies, China has risen from isolation to become a world power. It has demonstrated adaptive strategies to accommodate, integrate and work within local environments and realities. A nation of one-fourth of the world’s population (1.4 billion) has leapt from low productivity to become the second-largest economy in the world by adopting reforms and opening up in pursuance of socialism with Chinese characteristics. This enamoured nations, institutions, groups and individuals seeking to achieve the development goals across different continents and regions with China.

Secondly, China has promoted global peace, tolerance and inclusion more than any other country. As a non-belligerent country and as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, it has stayed true to the principles of the UN Charter by standing in solidarity and cooperation with people around the world and upholding international equity and justice, contributing significantly to world peace and harmony. According to Xi, in his UN speech, “…the Chinese people have upheld the authority and sanctity of the United Nations and practised multilateralism, and China’s cooperation with the United Nations has deepened steadily.”

Due to its foreign policy of non-interference in the host country, China promotes peace by resolving political conflicts through peaceful means and safeguards sovereignty, security and development interests. China has sent over 50,000 peacekeepers to UN peace operations in Africa and other regions. It is now the largest financial and personnel contributor to the UN and applied the universality of human rights in the Chinese context. In the view of Cuba Ambassador to China, Carlo Miguel Pereira, in the Global Times, while assessing China as a vital player and progressive stance in the UN system, said China has helped to “democratise the United Nations and promote multilateralism.”

Third, China is promoting humanitarian assistance through multilateral actions. In the ongoing global battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, many developed nations are looking inward and initiating vaccine diplomacy. But China, in accordance with the promise and principles of the UN, has been active in sharing its experience with the world and rendered large quantities of medical and material supplies like preventive kits, medicines, doctors and nurses and vaccines. Africa is an esteemed beneficiary of this gesture.

By extending its hand of fellowship to Africa, China has promoted cooperation through multilateral platforms like the BRI, BRICS (with South Africa) and Forum of China and China Cooperation. Many people have walked out of poverty, unemployment, diseases and ignorance through assistance unleashed by development infrastructure and trade investments by China. Roads, railways, bridges, dams, hydroelectric and alternative energy plants, airports, ports, free trade zones and others are built to open up development opportunities.

China has helped African countries to self-determination. China’s presence on the Security Council not only represents unity and balance of power but also safeguards the interests and rights of developing countries. The African Union has its headquarters edifice in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia courtesy of China. The complex serves as an indispensable platform for AU to play its role efficiently and effectively on the continent. For us in Africa, China is considered a source of inspiration. African diplomats and experts have also commended China for its contributions to multilateralism in the last 50 years.

Likewise, for all the good deeds of China as a responsible multilateral power, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, while congratulating China for the past 50 years, also thanked China for upholding multilateralism for supporting the UN’s work and playing a major part and making significant contributions to promoting world peace and development. In another way, I used to tell colleagues, China is like a mini UN because it has initiated a wide range of multilateral forums in banking, infrastructural, investment, research and other sectors that embrace diverse countries to achieve peace and development. BRI, BRICS (Brazil, Russia India, China and South Africa), Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and Asian Development Bank are some of the multilateral groups China belongs to. Antonio Guterres has wholeheartedly received XI’s proposal for the UN to set up the Global Development Initiative. Actions should be accelerated to actualise this lofty idea in order to address development challenges.

The ongoing G20 meeting in Rome and the COP26 IN Glasgow on 1 November offer the big nations the opportunity to show “more ambition and more action” as Guterres puts it. This is another test for China and others to demonstrate their commitment to humanity to discuss and find solutions to the existing disorder between nations, and holistically address climate change, and re-launch the global economy battered by the pandemic. Commitment to multilateralism also calls for strengthening unity and coordination, and honouring one’s words with concrete actions and completely abandoning the Cold War mentality, bullying and zero-sum game. Partners should be ready to compromise on the basis of mutual respect and a balance of interests.

The world should emulate the Chinese model of multilateralism if it’s going to overcome the myriads of global challenges and issues. As the world is transiting the pandemic and economic recessions, no country can thrive in isolation but through solidarity and cooperation in pursuit of common goals. Multilateralism will foster a shared future and prosperity for mankind. Multilateral mechanisms should be genuinely engaged for the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, fight future pandemics and climate change, protect human rights, cybersecurity, biosecurity and biodiversity. In Africa in particular, multilateral and regional cooperation can be broadened and deepened to fight the most critical problems bedevilling the continent – terrorism, hunger, poverty, injustice, inequity and other drivers of crimes and underdevelopment. Africa has a lot to connect more to multilateral platforms that China provides to achieve the AU’s 2063 Agenda.

The UN and other comities should practice true multilateralism. Improving the global governance system requires true multilateralism. China recognises this aspect of international law of relations and adheres to its practice. Big nations should not manipulate the UN for their own gain or use it as a tool for hegemony and power politics but should stay committed to true multilateralism. Unilateralism is no longer the norm. The present world realities call for altruism, pragmatism and consistency, which the UN stands for.

While reiterating the universality of approach in his closing remarks at the UN Conference, Xi called on the world saying “we should resolutely uphold the authority and standing of the United Nations and work together to practice true multilateralism.” Realising coherent, genuine and long-term development is through deeper connectivity, openness and inclusiveness as exemplified by China in the last 50 years. The world should embrace multilateralism with kindness and courage.