The Concept of ‘Community of Common Destiny’ in Xi Jinping’s New Era

Introduction:

The Community of Common or Shared Destiny is not a wholly new idea in Chinese foreign policy. The Chinese Communist Party first used this term in 2007 in connection to cross-strait relations. In October 2013, Xi Jinping in his keynote address to the ‘Workshop on Diplomatic Work with Neighboring Countries’ explained the notion of ‘shared destiny’, it was then the term officially came into the Chinese foreign policy dictionary (Rigby & Taylor, 2014). Recently this term has also officially been written into their Party constitution as a determining feature of “Xi Jinping’s Thought.” This implies the concept of “community of common destiny for all mankind” explains Xi Jinping’s way of dealing with foreign relations. China today might build on the idea of community of shared destiny for mankind, instead of the Cold War outlook and power politics (Mardell, 2017).

Origin and Meaning:

Its origin can be traced back to Ernst Renan’s book “What is a nation?” which put forwards the notion that countries are not held together by their culture or ethnicity but by a common sense of community and shared destiny. China is now applying this same idea in the international context (Mardell, 2017). According to a Chinese Scholar, Chen, this concept has replicated the essence of China’s traditional culture that is “the unity between Heaven and Man, moving towards the right path”, which comes down in line with concepts of peace and mutual win-win cooperation.

The term “community of common destiny” explains a world that is defined by mutual cooperation. It also explains the new perspective in dealing with international relations through win-win cooperation, which replaces the old western model (Mardell, 2017).

From the English school of thought, Hedley Bull makes a distinction between ‘a system of states’ and ‘a society of states’ in the global order. States interact and affect one another while proceeding with their distinct interests and values under ‘a system of states’. But under ‘a society of states’, states’ acts are bound by a set of common values, interests, rules and institutions. This theme of ‘a society of states’ is closer to the concept of CCD (Zhang, 2018).

Motives and Implications:

The prompt for this new concept in diplomacy is the escalating territorial tensions with Taiwan and ASEAN nations in the South China Sea. This deadlock has halted Chinese neighborhood diplomacy, which aspires to occupy the global center stage. Also, the US rebalancing (pivot to Asia policy) in the Asia-Pacific region has fuelled China’s concern for strategic security. Against this backdrop, Xi Jinping aroused the sense of CCD in the neighboring nations in order to reduce the tensions in the South China Sea. But Chinese ability to reshape the regional framework is debated and the effects of CCD will be tested in the future.

Think of the call in 2005, the then US deputy secretary of state, Robert Zoellick called on China to become a ‘responsible stakeholder in Asia-Pacific region’ and Kevin Rudd, the former Australian Prime Minister’s vision of a balanced Asia-Pacific community, against China’s rise. In this context, China viewed CCD as an essential tool for securing peace and stability in the region. Many IR analysts perceive CCD as a direct counter to the US’s rebalancing strategy (Rigby & Taylor, 2014).

China is aware of its rapid economic development since the 1970s, which requires a favorable international situation and this concept pushes for it. Another theme of this concept is ‘peaceful development’. By suggesting this theme, China aims to silent the increasing ‘Chinese threats’ connected with its rise and increased military spending. In contrast to the western understanding that the international system is a zero-sum game and the rise of a nation will challenge the established hegemony, the proposed concept of CCD suggests that nations can co-exist and secure their common interests. So to the Chinese, according to this concept, the US should accept the rise of China instead of panicking. This concept reflects transition in the China’s diplomacy from ‘hiding the capacity and keeping a low profile’ to ‘proactive diplomacy’ in Xi Jinping’s era (Zhang, 2018).

Furthermore, it is essential to analyze the Chinese definition of CCD. In 2015, President Xi Jinping explained the elements of CCD in his speech at the 70th UN General Assembly. He elaborated the CCD covers five important perspectives, which are political partnership, economic development, security, cultural exchanges and environment. For instance, the Chinese new initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) are all part of this idea. According to a Chinese diplomat Wang Yiwei, the Belt Road Initiative encourages the emergence of a new economic and world order. He explained that community of common destiny can only be achieved through building a “community of shared interests and responsibilities.” Shared interests refer to a situation of economic interdependence and shared responsibilities refer to security and political spheres (Mardell, 2017).

The concept of CCD discloses two main characteristics of Chinese foreign policy: one that China’s diplomacy is multifaceted. China calls for cooperation among countries to achieve common goals and at the same time, it muscles in territorial disputes with ASEAN and Japan in the South China Sea. Second, there are two trends in China’s diplomacy — acts assertively on issues of its core interests like the Taiwan issue and cooperates with nations on issues of its ‘non-core interests’. The future of CCD depends on whether it will be recognized by China’s partner nations.

Conclusion:

Such a great ideal may sound too void to be applicable, but this phrase cannot be dismissed as it reflects the Chinese growing ambitions as a world leader. Besides, the present features of Chinese foreign policy are driven by its energy and economic aspirations rather than its core idea CCD. Rory Medcalf, a professor at Australian National University, perceives this as a ‘premature power play’. The current global scenario indicates China’s growing assertiveness of its own interests in regard to those of its neighboring nations and as a result, it is becoming isolated. If the gap between Chinese stated foreign policy and the reality widens, then the rhetoric of ‘community of shared or common destiny’ will be questioned: ‘Whose community? And whose destiny? Nonetheless, the type of community that China desires to shape is still unclear, as it is never explained in detail.

References:

Chen, Z. (2017). The Chinese cultural root of the community of common destiny for all mankind. Retrieved from http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/

Gao, C. (2017). ‘A Community of Shared Future’: One short phrase for UN, one big victory for China? Retrieved from https://thediplomat.com/2017/11/a-community-of-shared-future-one-short-phrase-for-un-one-big-victory-for-china/

Mardell, J (2017). The ‘Community of Common Destiny’ in Xi Jinping’s New Era. Retrieved from https://thediplomat.com/2017/10/the-community-of-common-destiny-in-xi-jinpings-new-era/

Rigby, R., Taylor, B. (2014). Whose shared destiny? In Shared destiny (pp58–73). ANU press, Canberra.

Zang, D.(2018). The concept of ‘community of common destiny’ in China’s Diplomacy. Asia & the Pacific policy studies, Volume 5 (issue 2). Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/app5.231

A research scholar at Centre for East Asian Studies, JNU, with a special interest in energy security and climate change issues.