Different Perceptions of International Order

Ding Yuanhong former Chinese Ambassador to Switzerland and Belgium and Head of the Chinese Mission to the European Union
In recent analyses and studies of international situation, three different yet correlated terms have been frequently cited, namely, international order, international system and international architecture. Here is a simple way to understand them. International order includes various norms governing international relations, or “rules of the game”, so to speak. International system refers to international organizations and institutions established to implement these norms. And international architecture is a framework of international relations gradually shaped out of different natures, strengths and status of different countries. The first two belong to the superstructure, while the third one is part of the economic base. Throughout history, qualitative changes in the base would surely trigger adjustments in the superstructure so as to better adapt to the changing circumstances. Current debates on the international order are ultimately affected by the ongoing changes in the international architecture, from quantitative to qualitative ones.
Peace and stability are two fundamental issues in today’s world that helped create an international architecture based on the East-West and North-South structures. As seen through the global financial and economic crisis and the Ukrainian crisis, neither of these two issues has been addressed, and the international architecture is experiencing some major changes, the most prominent one being the shifting balance of power between the North and the South. Developing countries (emerging economies included) overtook developed ones in terms of economic aggregate in 2012, and have continued to grow at a speed two times faster. The huge power imbalance between the North and the South has been redressed, as a result of unbalanced development of capitalist economy and economic globalization, and its impact on the international order.
The existing international political and economic orders are dominated by the United States, Europe and other developed countries. These countries set the “rules of the game”. And international institutions are also controlled by a few developed countries to serve their own interests. The fundamental reason behind all this is the absolute advantage of their economic strength, which far exceeds that of developing countries. However, the continuation of such dominance of the international order has been made elusive by the shifting balance of power between the North and the South, and developed countries’ loss of absolute advantage. Yet they are still vigorously defending their vested interests. Developing countries, as their strengths grow, are determined to raise their voice and play a bigger part in international affairs and to bring an end to all the unjustified and unequal treatment. The growing conflict between these two endeavors has become a main source of tension in the evolving international situation.
The core issue in the international order is the underlying principles governing state-to-state relations. There are different views and claims regarding this question between developed and developing countries, between big, medium-sized and small countries, and among big countries themselves. However, all rules and norms governing international relations shall be extensively recognized by the international community. After World War II, the United Nations was founded and universally recognized international norms were written into its Charter. A normal international order should therefore be based on the UN Charter. And the UN, as the most authoritative international organization, should naturally play a leading role in international affairs, especially in major issues affecting peace and stability in the world.
Unfortunately, Western countries led by the United States have all along attempted to dominate the UN affairs through their strengths. As a result, the UN Command was directly embroiled in the Korean War as a belligerent in the 1950s; and in the 1960s, the US sent troops to the Indochina War without UN mandate. As the Cold War ended and as it became the world’s only superpower, the US has shown no respect at all to the UN. In September 2000, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) made up of American neo-conservatives openly “demanded American political leadership rather than that of the United Nations” to set the stage for the Bush administration. Since then, the US has been promoting the so-called “Pax Americana” as an international order, totally repudiating the global consensus that a normal international order should be based on the UN Charter.
A core principle at the heart of the UN Charter is sovereign equality and non-interference in the internal affairs. This has reflected the keen aspirations of all peoples to uphold peace and stability on the planet, which suffered from the scourge of two world wars. However, a few Western powers, in particular the US as the only superpower, have been attempting to deny these principles to serve their own interests. They have kept putting forth absurd theories, such as “sovereignty being an outdated concept”, “human rights ranking above the rights of states”, “neo-interventionism”, “failed states”, “axis of evil” and “outposts of tyranny”, in a bid to find the pretext or legal ground to trample on the sovereignty and interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. The upheavals and wars in the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa over the years are all related to the reckless interference of Western countries. The US and European countries have unshirkable responsibilities for the Ukrainian crisis, which have kept worsening over the past year and more. Facts have shown that the international order of “Pax Americana” trumpeted by the US has brought endless upheavals, and no peace, to this world.
To cover up and glorify their despicable acts of promoting power politics, undermining the sovereignty and interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, Western powers have deliberately spread the following absurdities, which have been echoed by a small number of Chinese scholars:
Absurdity number one: in this era of growing economic globalization and intertwining interests among countries, respect for sovereignty and non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs should no longer be emphasized. This is a totally hypocritical and absurd argument. First, since the Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648, countries have been obliged to follow the principle of sovereign equality as nation states have remained the mainstay of the international community. The UN, as the most authoritative international organization, was founded exactly on the basis of the principle of sovereign equality. And this principle should never be weakened, regardless of any development in state-to-state relations. Second, economic globalization is now dominated by a few developed countries. This in itself is unfair and unjust for developing countries. Western powers, including the US and some European countries, take the law of the jungle as the norm: they wish for the liberty to trample on the sovereignty and interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, while no one should ever be allowed to put in a word about their own sovereignty or internal affairs.
Absurdity number two: the existing international order benefits all countries and should therefore not be overturned or rebuilt. This is also a specious assertion. First, what does “the existing international order” mean? If it refers to the one widely recognized and built on the UN Charter, then of course it should be observed, as it is conducive to peace and development in the world. This is also why developing countries take the UN Charter as the “last line of defense” for their sovereignty. Second, what developing countries seek to remove is the unjustified and unreasonable part of the international order whereby a few developed countries have been able to leverage their strengths, pursue their vested interests and defy such a basic norm governing international relations as sovereign equality. Doesn’t this call for necessary adjustment and reform after all?
As a developing socialist country, China has, since its founding in 1949, followed the principle of equality and peaceful coexistence among countries, stayed committed to the independent foreign policy of peace and made unremitting efforts for a just and reasonable international order. Since the 1950s, the Chinese government has advocated the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence and maintained that countries, regardless of their social systems and ideology, should develop normal state-to-state relations according to these principles. As the Five Principles are fully consistent with the spirit of the UN Charter, China’s position has won extensive recognition and support, especially from developing countries. In the 1990s, as the US was promoting the international order of “Pax Americana”, the Chinese leadership unequivocally pointed out that to establish a new international political and economic order based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence was a long-term diplomatic task for the Chinese government and its people, and that “the key principle governing the new international order should be non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs ... if the Western developed countries insisted on interfering in other countries’ internal affairs and social systems, it would lead to international turmoil, especially in the developing countries of the Third World”. This judgment has been proven by the ongoing turbulence in the Middle East.
As China has experienced fast growth of its economy and national strength since the beginning of the 21st century, some people outside China have begun to spread the “China threat theory”. In response, China has put forward the concept of peaceful development and stated that even if the socialist China becomes increasingly stronger, it will never embark on the doomed path of seeking hegemony. Instead, it will pursue major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics. After the 18th CPC National Congress, the new central leadership has made the concept of peaceful development the strategic thinking guiding China’s domestic and foreign policies, based on its theories and past practices. Peaceful development is regarded as the only path to achieve the two centenary goals and the Chinese dream of great national renewal. As an important task to safeguard world peace and promote common development, China is also encouraging and urging other countries to follow the path of peaceful development. China firmly believes that if all countries follow the path of peaceful development, it would serve the common interests of people around the world, including the Chinese people, and help to establish a fair, reasonable and harmonious international order.
Following the strategic thinking of peaceful development, China has continued to uphold its independent foreign policy of peace, and has carried forward and developed various principles and thoughts in an innovative way. These include, among others, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, equality of all countries regardless of their size, mutual respect, non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs, opposing hegemonism and safeguarding world peace. China has also introduced new theories and taken new steps. For example, it has been proposed that on the diplomatic front, China needs to advocate democracy in international relations, work to establish a new type of international relations featuring win-win cooperation, and build a new model of major-country relations featuring non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation. And China has identified the principles of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness in its neighborhood diplomacy and sincerity, real results, affinity and good faith in its relations with African countries.
China, as a developing socialist country, has noticeably followed the important principles of all countries being equal regardless of their size, mutual respect and non-interference in each other’ internal affairs ever since its founding. Under no circumstances would China ever allow others to interfere in its internal affairs under any pretext or in any form. Likewise, China is committed to not interfering in other countries’ internal affairs. This is an important part of China’s major-country diplomacy that makes it different from the major-power diplomacy in the past. However, a few Western powers have in recent years made ill-intentioned and groundless accusations against this principled position of China, and have misleadingly compared some of China’s international mediation efforts to interfering in other countries’ internal affairs. A few Chinese scholars therefore believe that China, as a responsible big country, should not be restricted by the principle of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs. Such clamors have appeared in and outside China over the years in wake of the Syrian crisis and the Ukrainian crisis. We should remain vigilant to this trend.
China values principles and upholds justice in its diplomacy. Unlike some Western powers, China never pursues its own interests and profits at the cost of justice. China’s commitment to non-interference is a justified and unshakable position. As for some international mediation efforts, the Chinese government has always acted upon the request or the consent of relevant countries and with the UN mandate or support. This is totally different from the acts of intervention by a few Western powers, who attempted to use every means possible to impose their own will on other countries, or even used force to overturn their legitimate governments.
China has shown to the world that no matter how the international situation changes and how China develops, it has been and will always be an indispensable and staunch force for peace in the world.

* Ding Yuanhong is former Chinese Ambassador to Switzerland and Belgium and Head of the Chinese Mission to the European Union.