Global Thoughts Provoked by the Munich Security Conference Entitled “Post-truth, post-west, post-order”

By Wang Yusheng

The Munich Security Conference (MSC) in mid-February this year is themed as “Post-truth, post-west, post-order”.

The Munich Security Report 2017 points out that, Western countries believe less and less that their systems are able to deliver positive outcomes. According to Wolfgang Ischinger, Chairman of the Munich Security Conference, “the international security environment is arguably more volatile today than at any point since World War II. Some of the fundamental pillars of the West and of the liberal international order are weakening.” He also goes straight to the point by asking, “Are we entering a post-order world?”

The fact that the MSC never had such themes before and that the organizer declared its position at the very beginning calls for deep thoughts. Some in the West believe that, such theme is a sign of anxiety and reflection of the established developed countries (especially their sensitive elites), and it makes sense as it relates to the global situation, the international order, and their so-called “political correctness”.

Ever since the new century unfolds, “the international balance of power has been undergoing historic changes, featured by accelerating quantitative changes”, and the U.S. “cannot help seeking to gain the upper hand in spite of its declining supremacy”. This conclusion is a fair reflection of realities since qualitative changes are preceded by quantitative changes: despite its decline, the U.S. has not lost its power and still retains its international clout to some extent.

Last year witnessed drastic and unexpected changes in the world, which could be characterized as confusion, transformation, and governance. And the key contributor comes from the U.S., since it refuses to face the reality of a changed world, persists that “the United States is and remains the one indispensable nation… it will be true for the century to come” and holds on to its role as the “world’s policeman”.

A “total chaos” is bound to require “fundamental change”. Last year, the “change of times” seemed to have reached a “tipping point” although change has always been absolute and prevalent. The Duterte Phenomenon and the Trump Phenomenon, the “Two Black Swans”, are not accidental, and foreshadow progress towards “qualitative changes”. “Adversity gives rise to the desire for changes”: this proverb was used on developing countries which sought to turn around their economies. Now “prosperity also gives rise to the desire for changes” when most of them have succeeded and some have even had a rapid rise in their global standing. A most representative case is that BRICS leaders are demanding a more just and reasonable order in international politics and economy, which means the order set by the U.S. no longer works well. In essence, “fundamental change” relates to the general direction for the change of times.

In view of this, some experts and scholars at home and abroad argue that, “quantitative process” is no longer a precise wording since the change of times has already taken place or, in other word, is at least close to qualitative change. Many Americans, to varying degrees, agree with or have come near the understanding that the change of times has reached a tipping point. A representative of them is the renowned scholar Francis Fukuyama. When the Soviet Union collapsed, he predicted the universalization of Western liberal democracy in his landmark essay “The End of History”, affirming that the United States and its value will dominate the globe, yet he was ridiculed by historical and societal development. Mr. Fukuyama, as a serious scholar, has had to admit that he was so idealistic to have reached a misjudgment despite his continued praise for the so-called American democracy and liberty. He has had to acknowledge the failure of the so-called American democracy and the merits of the political systems in countries like China. An increasing number of scholars in the U.S. now seem to be holding the same opinion, and another one who has left me a deep impression is the top expert David Lampton. At the mention of him, people would immediately think of his 2015 article “A Tipping Point in U.S.-China Relations is Upon Us”. Seemingly, he maintains “there will be an inevitable war between the US and China”. But a careful read would then reveal his emphasis on the underlying causes of the difficulties in China-U.S. relations and that fundamentally, America has to rethink its objective of primacy. This view is rather valuable.

When “total chaos” requires “fundamental change”, “fundamental change” also calls for governance as this is a rule of social development. For example, during the age of warfare and turbulence, the mainstream obviously desires stability and governance. People crave for a peaceful, stable and harmonious world. And the world at large is considering and exploring new ways to get along with each other, and is looking forward to a beautiful prospect. In such a context, the grand issue of “global governance” made it to the global agenda. It has been almost 10 years if the 2008 U.S. Financial Crisis should be seen as the start for the rising importance of global governance. And it is fair to say that a lot has been achieved while a lot remains to be done.

As a systemic endeavor, “global governance” requires “top-level design” in strategy and social development directions.

First, a clear agreement or at least understanding of the MSC’s theme of “Post truth, Post-West and Post-order. “Post-truth” means that, the “political correctness” extolled by the established developed countries is but a false claim, and their so-called “values” are definitely not one-size-fits-all solutions. The meaning of “post-west” is self-evident. The G7 is still powerful, but could no longer have the final say in global affairs. Instead, they need to consult emerging economies represented by the BRICS. As with “post-order”, the “order” should be upheld and safeguarded (with development and necessary modification of course) if it refers to the spirit of the UN Charter and its related orders, and should be abandoned if it refers to the so-called “order”, which is a twisted one (President George W. Bush once expressed his belittlement of the UN in praise of the US dominance). In June 2009, the 16-point Joint Statement issued at the First BRIC Summit stated the BRIC’s support for the UN’s central role.

Second, a wisdom-pooling “prescription” to champion “global governance” from a strategic perspective. The G20 consensus reached in Hangzhou last year has to a large extent reflected the necessity of global governance since it advocates cooperation and win-win spirit and objects trade and investment protectionism, and advocates inclusiveness and interconnectivity.

Third, the agreed Shanghai Spirit of “mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for diverse civilizations and shared development” upheld by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization can be a reference to the “prescription for global governance” since it conforms to the trend of the times.

Lastly and most importantly, valuable public goods and wisdom are needed in the context of “post-truth, post-west, post-order” and “global governance”. China has no intention for the laureate of a “world leader”, and is willing to jointly explore solutions with other countries and contribute China’s proposal and wisdom. China’s ready-to-use proposals are the “community of shared future” and the Belt and Road Initiative.

Last year, a pair of Black Swans took flight from the Philippines (Duterte) and the United States (Trump). The combustive pair is not as superficial as they seem; instead, they each represent certain interests and iconic features. Those “politically right” are discontented and are battling hard to hold them back. However, “global governance” and the “post-truth, post-west, post-order” reality require them to behave themselves and “fly with the trend of times”, which is the right direction. A rising China, which is also a responsible large nation, is already moving towards the direction of the trend of times. It is a sincere hope that we can meet each other halfway, proceed to the same direction, and write a new chapter for a global community of shared future.

Wang Yusheng is Executive Director of the Research Center, CFIS and China’s former senior APEC official.