By Ho Lok-sang
Early this year, President Xi Jinping put forward his proposal for a Global Civilization Initiative. I was overjoyed by this proposal because too much in this world is anything but civilized.
An issue of Sociological Review (2022) focused on the idea of "After Progress". The volume included 12 open-access articles, all critical of the idea of "progress". The introduction to the volume referred to "the ruinous philosophical, political and ecological histories of modern progress" and looked forward to "upending the historicist, colonial, developmental and extractivist logics of progress".
The disillusionment of the authors with modern progress is that so-called progress has continually made the world less fair, less livable, more polarized, and clearly unsustainable. It is high time for us to take a look at what "modern progress" has done to the world. We need to rebuild a world that is truly civilized.
I have long held the view that Planet Earth has enough resources for all its inhabitants to thrive. Endowed with plenty of resources, and coupled with human ingenuity, we should be living in paradise. Science and technology have progressed to the extent that if we use them well, we can improve the environment, so that the ecological system will foster biodiversity and so that we have a future.
It is difficult to understand why we cannot work together to fight Earth's ills and why so many people continue to hold on to the zero-sum mentality, notwithstanding the "already well-articulated denunciations of progress' Eurocentric colonialism, impoverished historicism, rationalistic hubris and ecocidal extractivism".
The problem with the Western "Eurocentric" thinking is exactly this disconnect: the disconnect between the "civilized progressive West" and the "backward, uncivilized rest of the world". Leaders of the Western world think that they should set the rules; the rest of the world should just follow and should remain backward.
None of the "backward countries" should ever be on par with the United States. Scientific and technological breakthroughs made by China and others must be stopped. The US has the right to set the rules and to enjoy exceptions to the rules whenever it fits them.
On Sept 25, the US added 28 entities to the Entity List, 11 of which are based in China, five in Russia, five in Pakistan, along with others located in Finland, Oman, Germany, and the United Arab Emirates.
The rationale being that they were or might be "involved in activities contrary to the national security or foreign policy of the United States". But honestly, is there a real national security threat in the sense of a possible invasion against the US, or a loss of lives, loss of jobs, or loss of biodiversity, as a result of the activities of those on the Entity List?
Upon learning of Huawei's technological breakthrough in launching a new 5G smartphone, the US was shocked. A small group of Republican lawmakers put pressure on the Biden administration to completely cut off Huawei and Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) from their American suppliers, calling for complete blocking sanctions against SMIC and Huawei and a ban on US imports of SMIC-produced chips.
These lawmakers pushed for revoking all existing licenses and denying new licenses, and criminal charges against executives at Huawei and SMIC. The US appears unable to tolerate sharing prosperity.
"Modern civilization" so far has earned poor marks in terms of human welfare, plant welfare and animal welfare. Failing to connect with other people has resulted in violence, deforestation and the extinction of countless species from the face of the Earth.
There is no lack of concern for sustainability. The editors of the Sociological Review monograph pointed to "the ever-renewing promises of green reform and revolution (from green growth and the Green Industrial Revolution to the Green New Deal and proposals for Ecological Civilization)", but those who are genuinely concerned and worried are not those in positions of power. They seem to be oblivious to these concerns. For example, then-US president Donald Trump openly denied climate change in the face of the evidence of scientific facts.
If we are so shortsighted and narrow-minded, so self-centered and alienated against other people's success, can we claim to be civilized?
It is to the credit of the editors of the Sociological Review monograph, Martin Savransky and Craig Lundy, that they discussed, under the subsection "After Progress, Perhaps", the possible "advent of a new global civilization".
This is clearly in sync with President Xi's announcement of a Global Civilization Initiative in his March 15 keynote speech to the CPC in Dialogue with World Political Parties High-level Meeting. Unfortunately, the Western media immediately took issue with the proposal. REvan Ellis, in an article in The Diplomat published in June, wrote: "China's GCI sits alongside the previously announced Global Development Initiative (GDI) and Global Security Initiative (GSI) as a triumvirate of complementary, if amorphous, concepts in the 'Community of Common Destiny,' which Xi and the Chinese Communist Party are advancing as Beijing's alternative to the Western-dominated 'rules-based international order'."
He was unhappy with the GCI, saying that Xi referred to peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom as common aspirations and not as human rights. He also took issue with Xi's assertion that countries must refrain from imposing their own values or models on others. But shouldn't countries choose their own model of democracy?
Peace, development, equity, justice, respect, and freedom are universal values. Appreciating these as human rights is civilized. Denying other countries the right to choose their preferred model of democracy is not respect. It is, frankly, uncivilized.
(Ho Lok-sang is director of the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.)
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