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Critical moment when toys should be kept in the pram

By Hannay Richards | China Daily | Updated: 2020-11-21 07:05

President Xi Jinping addresses the virtual 12th BRICS Summit via video link in Beijing on Tuesday. Chinese officials participated in the meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. [Photo by Li Xueren and Ding Lin/Xinhua]

History teaches us that multilateralism, equity and justice can keep war and conflict at bay, while unilateralism and power politics aggravate disputes and confrontation.

President Xi Jinping's observation in a speech on Tuesday at the 12th BRICS Summit that countries should heed the lessons of the past would seem a simple one for the world to have learned after the devastating conflicts of the 20th century. Yet unfortunately, as he said, the deficits in governance, trust, development and peace are widening instead of narrowing.

That has been made all the more evident by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which after almost a year is still wreaking havoc around the world, posing a grave threat to people's lives and well-being, and causing the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Rather than all countries coming together to fight this common enemy, some, due to their own failings and because they are mired in a zero-sum ideology, have disrupted overall global cooperation and are trying to draw the battle lines for a new Cold War. This has needlessly prolonged the pandemic, increasing the human suffering and misery it has caused.

COVID-19 is a challenge that needs to be faced head-on. People's lives should come first, not jingoistic declarations of greatness backed up by rampant acts of bullying and politicization and stigmatization. And here it is only stating what should be obvious to all that the elephant in Xi's speech is the United States.

Even though the US is atypical only in the current administration's narrow-minded need to prove the US is first among equals by "social distancing" the country from the rest of the international community, the administration has evidently taken to heart the notion of American exceptionalism.

However, it is easy to feel exclusive when you are the only member of the club, and all the US administration's insistence on "America first" has done in its attempt to make "America great again" is simply to prove that it is a bankrupt proposition.

But as one historian has noted, often a country's policies are made less to suit the facts than to fit the notions and intentions formed out of the mental baggage that has accumulated in the minds of the policymakers since childhood. And that has certainly been true of the current administration, which has often seemed to be throwing its toys out of the pram in a fit of pique.

Xi has made similar remarks on previous occasions, but his speech at the BRICS Summit comes after Joe Biden has been widely tipped to be next occupant of the White House, and as such, it can be taken as a call for the US to come in from the cold and rejoin the international community.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that not only has modern society a propensity to create potentially catastrophic risks, it is also woefully unprepared to deal with them.

As he has before, Xi stressed that countries should safeguard the international system centered on the United Nations and defend the purposes and principles of the UN Charter as its cornerstone. While the UN system is by no means perfect and needs reforming to reinvigorate it, its purpose is still to promote a brighter shared future for all and it is still the best means for orchestrating concerted actions to address common threats.

The US' desire for another Cold War is dangerous and not conducive to bringing to an end the ongoing pandemic, which if it persists will only foment more troubles for the world.

Unfortunately, while it is anticipated that a Biden administration will take a more considered approach in its China policy, it is not expected to make any fundamental change to the vitriolic stance adopted by its predecessor.
However, it should bear in mind that it has gained office because the incumbent administration failed to heed another lesson of history, namely that good or bad fortune befalls a state depending on whether it acts in accordance with the character of the times.

At this critical moment, the lesson that should have been learned is that the times call for international coordination and the mobilization of all resources to not only stop the virus in its tracks, but also to address the even greater challenge of climate change.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily.

If you have a specific expertise and would like to contribute to China Daily, please contact us at opinion@chinadaily.com.cn, and comment@chinadaily.com.cn.

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