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Neutrality: The foundation of prosperity and sustainability

By Wilson Li, Tina He | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2022-03-16 07:45

Photo taken on Feb 27, 2022 shows smoke rising in the sky in Kyiv, Ukraine. [Photo/Xinhua]

From the beginning, Russia-Ukraine war is not limited to the belligerents. NATO has imposed sanctions except the direct declaration of war. The responses of some politicians are a bit unusual this time. The president of the United States Joe Biden promised on Feb 24 to make Vladimir Putin become “an outcast on the international stage”. One day later, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton advocated that US government forces and nongovernmental supported individuals such as hackers should launch cyberattacks against Russian government institutions in response to the war in Ukraine. In a talk to his donors on March 6, former US President Donald Trump said that US jets could bomb Russia in the guise of China, “and then they start fighting with each other and we sit back and watch”.

Now let us look at the responses from some international organizations. In today's interlinked globalization environment, some of the responses deserve special attention. By tracing back to their fundamental purpose of establishment, original commitment and the scope of rights and functions outlined in the relevant international laws, people can better understand their vision, attitude and stance, and gain some insights on the evolution of international organizations and the reconstruction of international order in the future.

The three values of Olympism are “excellence, friendship and respect”, and one of IOC's roles is “to take action to strengthen the unity of the Olympic Movement, to protect its independence, to maintain and promote its political neutrality, and to preserve the autonomy of sport.” However, IOC believes that the current war in Ukraine puts “the Olympic Movement in a dilemma”, i.e., athletes from Russia and Belarus and from Ukraine have unequal opportunity to participate in sports events. To solve the dilemma and to protect the integrity of global sports competitions, IOC recommended on Feb 28 that International Sports Federations and sports event organizers not invite or allow the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials in international competitions. Echoing IOC, FIFA and UEFA decided on March 1 that all Russian teams shall be suspended from participation in both FIFA and UEFA competitions. The International Skating Union (ISU) also announced on March 1 that no skaters belonging to Russia and Belarus shall be invited or allowed to participate in international ice skating competitions, including ISU Championships.

However, the recommendation of IOC is not in line with the three values of Olympism or the role of IOC. These responses are unprecedented, hardly convincing, may not be fair to athletes, coaches or audiences and might hurt “excellence, friendship and respect” because of the absence of the top athletes. Mr. Pep Guardiola, the coach of Manchester, spoke out about people's doubts that “[given what] happened in Yugoslavia, no one did anything.” Also, no one did anything to the athletes when there were wars in Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq.

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) currently covers over 11,000 financial institutions. SWIFT prides itself on “upholding its strict neutrality” and “being a global cooperative established and operated for the collective benefit of its community”.

However, SWIFT banned certain Russian banks in response to the request by the US and its allies. The decisions are obviously influenced to some extent by large member countries and clearly contrary to the original intention of neutrality and the commitment to benefiting the community.

In contrast, some organizations firmly uphold the principles of neutrality. On March 3, Interpol (International Criminal Police Organization) rejected the request of Ukraine, the UK and Poland to suspend Russia from the Interpol organization and gave the very convincing reason that only the general assembly comprising representatives from each of the 195 member states “can vote on issues relating to membership.” The US and its allies put more pressure on Interpol on March 7, and let us pay close attention to what follows.

The nonprofit organization ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) rejected Ukraine's request to cut off Russia from the global internet on March 3, 2022. In a letter, Mr. Göran Marby, the CEO of ICANN, wrote that “our mission does not extend to taking punitive actions, issuing sanctions, or restricting access against segments of the Internet -- regardless of the provocations.” He also added, “ICANN has been built to ensure that the internet works, not for its coordination role to be used to stop it from working.”

The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) is akin to an international organization as it serves many countries around the world. Regarding the requests by several countries and a small group of Ukrainian protesters to close the waterway to Russian ships, ACP reaffirmed on March 3 that the interoceanic waterway would maintain its policy of neutrality, and emphasized that according to the agreements signed in 1977, “it is a permanently neutral international transit waterway,” and especially “both in times of peace and in times of war”, the canal “remains safe and open for the peaceful transit of ships from all nations on terms of complete equality.”

Countries are getting closer along with global development. International organizations should have visions and missions into the future and act as bridges and ties between countries. For the sake of prosperity and sustainability of all international organizations, neutrality and equality are more important than ever and should be the unconditional commitment of all international organizations, regardless of whether the relationship is distant or close, the situation is peacetime or wartime, the country is large or small, or the voice is strong or weak.

The author Wilson Li is a professor and Tina He is an associate professor with Division of Business and Management, BNU-HKBU United International College.

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