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China’s five principles: a blueprint for peace

Beijing once again reiterated sovereign equality in state-to-state relations

By Our Correspondent |
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PUBLISHED July 07, 2024

We are almost halfway through this decade, and if there was some hope that was promised, the 2020s have so far delivered exactly the opposite. First, the pandemic, while alarm and anxiety over climate change reached fever pitch. Then its global fallout devastated economies right, left, and centre, dooming classes that had barely climbed out of poverty back into destitution. The challenges the world faces have only grown, both in number and intensity.

The scale of these challenges requires a truly global effort, with all rivals setting aside their differences to rectify the errors of the past and forge a harmonious and prosperous tomorrow together. And yet, the world seems to grow more divided than ever along various fault lines – east and west, Global North and Global South. The post-Cold War optimism of the 1990s has evaporated before our eyes, and with violent conflict raging on in Europe and the Middle East, one world power continues to nudge the world toward another to maintain its global hegemony.

Last week, China held a conference to mark the 70th anniversary of the ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence’ – the blueprint that has shaped the country’s foreign policy vision. Moderated by Chinese Premier Li Qiang, the conference was attended by former political leaders, envoys, academics, and other representatives from more than 100 countries. It culminated with the Beijing Declaration that emphasised the five principles as a global model and elaborated a vision of building a community with a shared future for mankind “to better reflect the reality that all countries share the same future.”

The five principles in question – (1) mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, (2) mutual non-aggression, (3) non-interference in each other's internal affairs, (4) equality and mutual benefit, and (5) peaceful coexistence – were first put forward by then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in December 1953 when he met an Indian Government Delegation. In June the following year, when he visited India and Burma (now Myanmar), the joint statements issued in both countries affirmed the five as guiding principles for bilateral relations. In 1955, the Asian-African Conference convened in Bandung, Indonesia adopted the ‘Ten Principles’ for conducting international relations, which included the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.

The essence of the Five Principles, as reaffirmed by last week’s Beijing Declaration, is sovereign equality in state-to-state relations. “All countries are equal,” reads the text of the declaration. “The big should not subdue the small, the strong should not bully the weak, and the rich should not exploit the poor.” The word ‘multipolarity’, the declaration emphasises, should be characterised by ‘equality and order’. “International law should be applied in an equal and uniform manner to all countries. Double standards and exceptionalism should be rejected.”

In his address at the conference, Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed that the Five Principles were initiated with the purpose of protecting the interests and pursuits of small and weak countries from power politics. “They categorically oppose imperialism, colonialism, and hegemonism, and reject belligerent and bullying practices of the law of the jungle. They have laid an important intellectual foundation for a more just and equitable international order,” he stressed.

While based on sound principles, the US-led Western rules-based order has suffered from selective thinking, dividing the nations of the world between haves and have-nots that have shifted based upon expediencies of the time. The contrast between Western official attitudes to the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza represents the most recent manifestation of this selective application. Where the US and its Western allies have sought to push Russia into international pariah status, on Israel, in the face of documented atrocities and war crimes, the same have remained not only silent but also complicit in many cases. Military aid to Israel still flows from the US and many of its allies. Anodyne statements of restraint have continued to provide tacit cover to Israel’s continuing brutalities, despite the threat of conflict spillover.

At the same time, the United States continues to wage an all but open economic war on China, pushing Europe to follow suit. From 5G to chip manufacturing and artificial intelligence, the United States, rather than engaging in fair competition, has sought instead to hinder Chinese industry and business. The most recent salvo in this ongoing economic assault has targeted Chinese electric vehicles, with both Washington and the EU slapping exorbitant tariffs on their import. Never mind the irony, given the clamor over their climate commitments.

The wider history of the Global South provides perhaps the most stark examples of the selective application of the Western rules-based order. For all talk of democratic ideals, for instance, how many regimes have been toppled and replaced with repressive ones?

The Beijing Declaration stressed the overarching goal to build a world of lasting peace, universal security, and shared prosperity – “one that is open, inclusive, clean, and beautiful, which points the direction for all countries to work together on Earth, the planet we call home.”

“All countries should take the path of peaceful development, act on the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable security, work for building a more balanced, effective, and sustainable security architecture, and resolve major international and regional issues through dialogue rather than confrontation,” the declaration stressed. It emphasised mutual respect as a ground rule of state-to-state interaction and the basis of building a new type of international relations. “Considering that countries differ in historical and cultural traditions and development stages, it is imperative to respect the development paths and systems chosen independently by the people of other countries, not to impose one’s will on other countries, and not to interfere in their internal affairs,” it stated, calling on major nations to ‘set an example.’

“We need to embrace an open and inclusive mindset,” reiterated President Xi. “All countries are on board the same giant ship. It carries on it not only aspirations for peace, economic prosperity, and technological advancement but also the diversity of civilisations and the continuation of the human species. In history, different civilisations helped each other prosper through interactions and brought about great progress and prosperity for mankind. This has left us with splendid chapters of mutual reinforcement and mutual learning among various cultures,” he said.

On the advice of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government, the National Assembly increased the effective income tax rate of a salaried person to 39 percent, for associations of persons to 44 percent, and for non-salaried individuals to 50 percent. These measures are now making it difficult not only to live in the country but also to leave due to increased taxes on travel. The government has also massively increased the FED rate on international travel tickets to generate an additional Rs55 billion in the next fiscal year.

The government imposed a 10 percent surcharge on the income tax of an annual income of Rs 10 million. This would effectively increase the income tax rate for a salaried person to 39 percent and 50 percent for non-salaried individuals. The Association of Persons will be charged 40 percent income tax, and after adding the impact of a bizarre surcharge, these firms will pay 44 percent income tax.

The dilemma is that the government and the powerful circles have not even realised what they have done to Pakistan’s poorer, low-middle, middle-income, and upper-income groups. In normal and healthy societies and in true democracies, these classes make the backbone of the economy. But Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his banker-turned Finance Minister have crushed these classes under inflation. What inflicts more pain is the lack of sympathy and realisation by the government of the sufferings the common men, women, children, and senior citizens have been subjected to.

Just glance through some ‘golden quotes’ from the budget approval days:

“We have imposed sales tax to encourage mothers to breastfeed their child,” said Amna Faiz Bhatty, a woman Member Income Tax Policy of FBR when she was asked to rationalize imposing 18 percent GST on infant milk.

“The middle and upper-middle income groups drink packaged milk and they can afford to pay 18 percent GST,” said Pakistan’s banker-turned Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb in his post-budget press conference.

Probably, the country’s milk manufacturing factories have taken the words of the Finance Minister more seriously and they have increased the prices by Rs75 per liter or 25 percent in one go. Now it is said that milk in Paris is cheaper than in Karachi.

Would the Finance Minister care to justify how a nation can afford to tax milk when its stunting rate is 40 percent and the poverty rate is 41 percent too?