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Harmonious World: China's Ancient Philosophy for New International Order
2007-09-03

China, together with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, staged a joint anti-terrorism exercise in mid August this year, the fifth drill launched within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) since it was founded in June 2001.

The drill, dubbed "Peace Mission 2007", was a practice run of anti-terrorism procedures, but its underlying aim was to strengthen military cooperation between China and central Asia.

Despite the show of military force, like the joint military maneuvers China has participated in with other countries, including the United States, it served to promote mutual trust among the participants.

"Such efforts are clear indication that China aspires to promote peace and harmony by reducing conflict in the world," says Ruan Zongze, deputy director of the China Institute of International Studies.

The "harmonious society" is a political catchphrase in China today, by which President Hu Jintao aims to lead the government in closing the wealth divide and easing growing social tensions. The concept of a "harmonious world" is an extension of Hu's domestic policy into the arena of foreign relations.

Philosophical Traditions

Looking at the 5,000-year history of China, it becomes apparent the word "harmony" is not freshly coined political jargon, but a philosophical tradition.

Thousands of years ago, Chinese carved the character "He", which means harmony and peace, on tortoise shells, and philosopher Confucius (551 B.C. to 479 B.C.) expounded the philosophical concept of "harmony without uniformity", meaning a world is full of differences and contradictions, but the righteous man should balance them and achieve harmony.

Italian missionary Matteo Ricci, who came to China more than 400 years ago, wrote after studying Chinese history, and especially after comparing the Chinese and European history, that the Chinese were contented with the status quo and cherished harmony and peace. The Chinese nation by its nature had no ambition for overseas conquest, he concluded.

"The thought of harmony is a major component of the Chinese culture that highlights a harmonious union of people," says Professor Zhang Liwen, of the Beijing-Based Renmin University.

Harmony means coordination, combination, integration and peace among different elements. "It's a reflection of the Chinese people's ethical principles and a basic element of China's modern diplomacy."

Late premier Zhou Enlai played a crucial role in formulating the "Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence" in 1954, which are now the fundamental guidelines for international relations; in the early 1980s, Deng Xiaoping proposed the "independent foreign policy of peace"; and since the turn of the century, the Chinese leadership has pledged to take a "path of peaceful development".

"The continuity in the strategies of different generations of Chinese leaders shows that China, facing a complex and changing world, has always regarded peace and harmony as a priority," says Ruan Zongze.

In 2005, as China started to advance social harmony in the domestic sphere, it also declared its pursuit for building up a harmonious world in the international arena.

President Hu Jintao advocated this concept at the United Nation's 60th anniversary summit, saying: "Multilateralism, mutually beneficial cooperation and the spirit of inclusiveness should be upheld to realize common security, prosperity, and to build a world where all civilizations coexist harmoniously and accommodate each other."

President Hu pointed out that the inevitability that China would develop peacefully was based on its national circumstances, historical and cultural tradition and world development trends.

At the end of 2005, the Chinese government for the first time issued a white paper on peaceful development. "Harmony" was described as the building of a peaceful and prosperous world as the ultimate goal of China's development.

During a national meeting on foreign affairs in August last year, the government vowed to create a sound international environment and favorable external conditions for the country's development and to contribute to the construction of a harmonious world.

Advocating Multilateralism

The upholding of multilateralism has been the striking feature of China's diplomacy over the past few years, as the country engaged more with international and regional organizations.

This strategy was outlined in the report of the 16th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2002, and guided diplomatic work in the next five years. The report says, "China will take an active part in multilateral activities, and play a constructive role within international and regional frameworks."

Multilateral diplomacy advocates relations with more than two nations, and it is more open and inclusive than diplomacy between just two countries, says Wang Mingjin, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

China has taken multilateralism as the long-term strategy for two reasons, Wang says. The first is that China would like to work with other countries to handle problems facing the whole international community, such as terrorism and climate change.

Second, China hopes more countries will work together for economic development.

China attended the G8 summit meetings concerning climate change in Germany in June last year, pledging to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and protect the environment.

Last year, China hosted three summits with nations from Africa, central Asia, and southeast Asia.

The Beijing summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation last November brought together more than 40 leaders and heads of state from Africa. The SCO summit began drafting cooperation codes in various fields to legally guarantee long-term, good neighborly and friendly cooperation. The China-ASEAN Summit marked 15 years of dialogue and partnership. It raised a proposal for cooperation in strategic, economic, security and cultural spheres.

"China's diplomacy has become more active and mature as the country's national strength developed," says Wu Jianmin, president of the Foreign Affairs University.

Interaction with World Powers and Neighbors

The five United Nations Security Council permanent members and other major economic heavyweights are the most important movers and shakers in the world arena, and China's interactions with them could well decide many issues relating to peace and security.

After five years of deadlock, relations between China and Japan have finally begun to thaw. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao paid an "ice melting" visit to Japan in April 2007, the first-ever tour by a Chinese premier in seven years. The two sides agreed to develop a "strategic and mutually reciprocal" relationship.

China's relationship status with the United States has upgraded from "stakeholder" to "constructive cooperator" as the two nations face common interests and challenges.

In the economic sphere, China has become Japan's biggest trading partner, and two-way trade between China and Japan exceeded 200 billion U.S. dollars last year. China-U.S. trade was worth more than 260 billion U.S. dollars in 2006 and is expected to rise to 300 billion U.S. dollars by 2010, according to the Chinese statistics.

Trade and security cooperation is becoming the cornerstone for the relationship between China and the major powers, and a new aspect of China's diplomacy.

To resolve the rising number of trade disputes, China advocated strategic dialogues with the U.S., Japan, India and Russia. China and the U.S. started their first economic dialogue in 2006.

To promote understanding and exchanges between the peoples, China has held a "year of culture" each with France, Italy and Russia.

"China has engaged in more interactions with the major powers, and its role in balancing the relationship among major powers cannot be neglected," says Jin Linbo, a researcher with China Institute of International Studies.

Maintaining peaceful borders with its neighbors is a top priority of China's foreign policy. Along frontiers with Vietnam, India and Russia, former battlefields are witnessing booming cross-border trade.

With the principle of equal consultation as well as mutual understanding and accommodation, China has signed boundary treaties or agreements with 12 of its 14 neighbors, demarcating 90 percent of its 22,000-kilometer land border.

On the disputes over oceanic resources, China proposed the principle of "shelving differences for joint exploration" and has reached agreements on joint development of mineral resources with neighbors, including Vietnam and the Philippines.

Engagement in World Affairs

China's aspiration for harmonious ties with others is demonstrated in its substantial engagement in world affairs and conflict resolution.

The country has actively participated in United Nations peacekeeping operations. At present, about 1,600 Chinese personnel are serving in ten countries, including Sudan, Lebanon, and Liberia.

China has always been a staunch supporter of political means to resolve the nuclear issues in the Korean Peninsular. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea has shut down its nuclear facility at Yongbyon, the initial step towards nuclear disarmament.

To boost the development of African nations, China adopted a series of measures and will provide aid initiatives worth more than10 billion U.S. dollars over the next three years. Also, China offered aid and funds to countries hit by natural disasters. It also offered emergency aid to disaster victims in developed nations.

On the thorny Darfur issue, China has maintained communications with Sudan through high-level visits, special envoys, and direct contact between leaders, advising Sudan to cooperate with the UN and the African Union and to take active steps to ease the situation in the Darfur region. China also appointed a special representative Liu Guijin for Darfur, who has been shuttling between the two continents.

"China has become an active mediator in international conflicts and helped regulate international rules," noticed Chen Xulong, deputy director of the Department of Strategic Studies of the China Institute of International Studies.

Harmony, the ancient Chinese philosophical concept reflected in modern diplomacy, will guide China to achieve stability and prosperity and play a positive role in forming the new international political and economic order, Chen says.

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