ERC INFRAGLOB team member Raoul Bunskoek and co-author Chih-yu Shih, Professor in Political Science at National Taiwan University, have recently published the article, ‘‘Community of Common Destiny’ as Post-Western Regionalism: Rethinking China’s Belt and Road Initiative from a Confucian Perspective’ in the journal Uluslararasi Iliskiler – International Relations.
The paper is part of the special issue Regional International Relations and Global Worlds: Globalising International Relations, edited by Pınar BİLGİN and Zeynep Gülşah ÇAPAN. It fits into the broader topic of this special issue in the sense that it offers an alternative non-Eurocentric epistemological viewpoint to not only rethink the ‘Community of Common Destiny for Mankind’ as propagated by Chinese political discourses, but also, its practical extension in the shape of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Therefore, it ‘provincializes’ dominant Western discourses on the BRI that are based on mainstream IR theorizations, but it does so without essentializing China. The discourse of the ‘Community of Common Destiny for Mankind’ was introduced by Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2012, then widely advocated by his successor Xi Jinping and written into the preface of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) constitution in 2018. The discourse perceives all the people in the world to belong to a (future) globally connected or related ‘big family’. Although the Community of Common Destiny currently seems more like a myth, the Chinese authorities have used all occasions to appear serious about transforming this myth into a reality. The main means of doing this is the BRI, which Chinese President Xi Jinping introduced in late 2013. The rationale of this enormous infrastructure project is to “connect[…] the Asian, African, and European continents”, which, although sounding rather vague, if successful could eventually lead to a connection of this so-called global ‘big family’.
In short, Bunskoek and Shih illustrate in the paper why and how this way of publicly framing the purpose of Chinese foreign policy has made sense to Xi and his colleagues. They do this through ‘re-worlding’ China by using the BRI as a case study to illustrate how in the discursive field(s) of China’s elite, China as a Westphalian nation state, and China as amorphous Tianxia under Confucianism coexist, struggle for recognition, and are interrelated. Consequently, they argue that China, because of the economic miracle it created domestically over the last few decades, is now convinced of its own ‘moral superiority’, and ready to export its self-perceived ‘benevolence’ abroad. In this light, they read the BRI to be undergirded by a combination of ‘Western’ and Confucian values, suggesting a post-Western/post-Chinese form of regionalism.
Although not without much romanticism, Bunskoek and Shih argue that the BRI and the Community of Common Destiny for Mankind are respectively the material and discursive instruments for China to relate to the rest of the world. They assert a romantic form of regionalism—no borders, no general rules, and yet mutually beneficial (i.e. ‘win-win’). In order to maintain China as Tianxia, its agents have to yield where the targets of relating show reluctance or regret (e.g., in Pakistan or Malaysia), and remain patient where disinterests prevail for the time being. Selling the idea and the project of the BRI too hard would appear self-centric. Rigidity in enforcing payment schedules indicates lack of self-restraint. Fluid and expansive regionalism, once aggressively pushed, would undermine Tianxia under these circumstances. In this light, European countries, for instance, can only become partners of BRI regionalism when they are ready. From a Chinese perspective, they are bound to relate eventually.
Finally, Bunskoek and Shih propose that whereas China as nation may fare badly in the world due to its intense and competitive self-centrism, China as Tianxia without such a label will continue to inspire people elsewhere.
Note: This entry is a preview of the article ‘‘Community of Common Destiny’ as Post-Western Regionalism: Rethinking China’s Belt and Road Initiative from a Confucian Perspective’ published in the journal Uluslararasi Iliskiler – International Relations. You can read this article in full by clicking on the link (open access).