This article is part of the World Economic Forum's Geostrategy platform
The polar regions, deep sea, cyberspace and outer space are new frontiers that are necessary for the survival and sustainable development of human beings.
In recent years, human activities in these frontiers have increased rapidly, climate change accelerated, and environmental problems worsened, all of which are having a serious impact on our life.
Moreover, these new frontiers have shown signs of disorder, featuring growing international competition and outdated governance, argue the authors of How to Govern the New Frontiers – China’s perspective.
Besides these challenges, we also need to think whether it is possible to jettison the existing order of power politics and construct a governance order with a new value system based on the essence of human civilization.
After all, the interests of international society in these frontiers are relatively simple. The new frontiers are where the resources and space for our survival and future development will come from. This is highly consistent with the idea of a shared future, and so the new frontiers can be the perfect platform to develop the correct philosophy.
There are three major problems with our governance of these areas. First, human activity has increased, but governance mechanisms lag behind. Second, human exploitation challenges the governance of these frontiers; and, third, there are often conflicts between the interests of nation blocs and regional powers, and those of humankind.
The essential problem, however, lies in the lack of consensus on governance philosophy.
The ownership of the sea, outer space, the polar regions, cyberspace, or any other kind of new frontier is not clear. Although it is widely believed among the international community that the vast majority of the new frontiers are “global commons”, owned by all mankind, they are often regarded as “terrae nullius” in practice.
Great powers compete against each other to occupy them, and improve their influence; they even apply the tenet that whoever enters first is the owner and whatever is practised first becomes the law.
An example is the United States’ position that cyberspace is a common domain, a view intended to dilute the sovereign nature of cyberspace, and weaken other nations’ sovereign administration over this domain. This in essence is a kind of cyberspace hegemony.
The international community is also divided on how to make rules and regulations in new frontiers, which reflects the lack of fundamental ethics and values to sustain governance.
In the development process of governance mechanisms in the new frontiers, global interests and national interests are seeing more new intersections, which engenders more clashes between different values.
Governance is currently controlled by a governing club: a group of states with de facto governance and control. And, to some extent, “more investment, more payback” has become an unwritten rule in this regard.
However, the common domain in these new frontiers should fundamentally be shared and collectively owned, and all the profits shared.
There is a lesson we should reflect on. The United States, although quickly rising as a superpower in the five decades following WWII, has failed to offer tenable values and public goods for the governance of the new frontiers. Instead, it promotes hegemonism, and maximizes its national interests with its technological advantages and military strength.
The United States changed the rules of new frontier governance, and selectively plays along or violates the rules according to its interests.
Improving governance means not only dealing with various global challenges, but also making rules and guidance for the international order and system.
This idea embodies the reality of and need for coexistence. It is a new diplomatic concept that conforms to the general trend of deepening interdependence between countries.
This diplomatic strategy is based not only on the realistic demand that China as a rising world power should participate in building the international order, but also on the belief that this is the most beneficial way to guide global governance.
Furthermore, the idea reflects the win-win concept of integrating friendship and interests, and is an inheritance and innovation of traditional Chinese culture in the contemporary era.
Ancient Chinese understanding, after thousands of years, can still inspire the world to achieve desirable global governance. The modern concept of sustainable development is reflected in Taoism, where believers follow objective laws to deal with the relations between human beings and nature, and advocate only modest exploitation that does not violate the law of nature.
In short, one can find the key elements of a community of shared future from the rich culture and history of China.
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Currently, global development is constrained by resource shortage and environmental degradation. As such, the deep sea, and the polar regions are like treasure troves of rich resources; and outer space and cyberspace are playing an increasingly important role in enriching our daily lives and expanding the global economic sphere.
The question of whether these new frontiers can be developed peacefully, harmoniously and sustainably directly affects the common destiny of all mankind.
The increased influence of non-state actors in global governance has made new frontier governance more inclusive. Currently, states remain the main governance actors. But as non-state actors, such as intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, groups of scientists and online communities, engage with governance, their roles and influence are increasing.
These new actors can serve as important purveyors of the philosophy of a community of shared future and be organizers for its implementation.
There are three ways to start building a community of shared future through new frontier governance.
First, we need to strengthen international cooperation in the scientific exploration of new frontiers. Scientific research projects like landing on the moon and Mars are collective efforts, and the cost and risk of scientific exploration is too high for any single country to carry out alone.
Second, we need to improve the mechanisms of new frontier governance. Institution building should reflect the fair distribution of benefits, effective governance results, and advanced civilizational development.
And third, we should promote democracy in the institutions, and improve transparency and participation of the decision-making process where currently large nations lead and all countries coordinate their interests.
Because of its limited national strength and technological power, the vast developing world cannot join the club for the time being. So, we need to maintain the co-ownership of new frontiers by all mankind, and reserve the right for the developing world to participate in the future.
It is natural for China, with its improved economic, diplomatic, scientific and technological capabilities, to participate in new frontier governance. The proposal is not only consistent with the country’s strategy of building a strong nation, but is also what the international community expects from China.
After nearly 40 years of reform and opening up, China has gained considerable practical experience in new frontier governance.
The country has constructed advanced mechanisms for scientific expeditions in oceans, deep seas and the polar regions, as well as a complete aerospace industry and information technology industry.
Chinese scientists have always been active participants of and contributors to science projects in new frontiers. All these efforts will not only help contribute to science and technology, but also show that China has the ability to provide public goods in terms of common security and welfare for the whole of humankind.
China’s promotion of a community of shared future for mankind is not only justified by its ethical values and outstanding civilization, but also sustained by this economic power, along with its technological prowess.
As it seeks to increase its share in the world economy, China has also shouldered more responsibility in global issues and now has a greater international voice to propose its unique solution to global governance.
While sustaining the existing international regime and recognizing its achievements, China should promote reforms in the international order, and safeguard and enhance the interests of the developing world so as to realize the common interests of all.
To build a community of shared future for mankind requires China to assume more international responsibility, and to strike a balance between rights and responsibility.
These responsibilities would in turn also enable China’s legitimacy as a world power. China is committed to promoting the peaceful use and the institutional improvement of new frontiers, and achieving effective governance.
Take the Arctic for example. The China-Nordic Arctic Research Center launched in 2013 is a scientist-led platform for international cooperation. Almost five years on, it has become one of the important cooperative mechanisms between China and the Nordic countries. China honours the spirit of respect, cooperation and sustainability. and seeks to improve international cooperation.
China should work with other nations to build a new order that is fair and reasonable; and the role that Chinese wisdom can play in the governance of new frontiers can facilitate the establishment of a community of shared future for all mankind.
How to govern the New Frontiers – China’s perspective, Yang Jian and Zheng Yingqin