Let 2012 be year of cooperation

Updated: 2011-12-29 07:58

By Chung-yue Chang (China Daily)

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Let 2012 be year of cooperation

The year 2011 is significant for China in many ways. It marks the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the 100th anniversary of the 1911 Revolution, both of which led to the formation of the People's Republic of China 62 years ago. Also, this year China became the world's second largest economy, and the world's third nation to launch a space station program of its own design and manufacture the Tiangong-1. As 2011 closes, 2012, the Chinese Year of the Long, or the divine Chinese dragon -a legendary combination of snake, phoenix, fish, tiger and deer - is expected to bring about auspicious changes. The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China will select the country's fifth generation leaders. New programs will be implemented, reform and opening-up will be deepened, the transformation of the economic development pattern will gain pace, and the construction of a moderately prosperous (xiaokang) society will intensify.

In 2011, China continued its peaceful rise, as re-affirmed by the State Council's September white paper, "China's Peaceful Development". Peace and harmony, the deep-rooted cultural value, has become China's strategic guide for national and international development.

On the global front, peaceful resolution of conflicts is China's preferred approach, be they economic, trade, political, environmental, security, historical, cultural, diplomatic or territorial. This approach is consistent with China's non-zero-sum stance for resolving issues; it seeks win-win solutions for all concerned parties. This contrasts with the oft-practiced zero-sum game by some countries that seek only win-lose solutions, usually for self-enrichment.

Former US president Bill Clinton gave the best brief affirmation of the non-zero-sum approach in a WIRED Magazine interview in December 2000. Agreeing with the non-zero-sum thesis of Robert Wright's book Nonzero, Clinton said: "The more complex societies get and the more complex the networks of interdependence within and beyond community and national borders get, the more people are forced in their own interests to find non-zero-sum solutions. That is, win-win solutions instead of win-lose solutions." A moment later, Clinton, as if compelled by the alacrity and clarity of his thought, concluded his observation with resign and discomfort: "There will never be a time, given human nature, when there will be no people seeking to impose zero-sum solutions, sometimes at enormous cost to society."

The contradiction Clinton observed reflects precisely China's discomfort. Today, some nations, large and small, developed and developing, unilaterally and simultaneously play both the non-zero-sum and the zero-sum games with China. They do so hoping to emerge winners in both. They play the non-zero-sum win-win economic games with China to gain riches. And they play the zero-sum mixed-economic-political-cultural-security win-lose games with China to check or impede its normal peaceful rise again for self-enrichment of some kind.

This dual gamesmanship is not only unfair to China, but also harmful for those who play them. History shows that China's rise has and can contribute to world stability and recovery, in ways beyond economic. In a "complex, interdependent world", playing both games simultaneously is like "killing the goose to get all the golden eggs". There is still a moral somewhere in this Aesop fable.

China has adapted to and has become an old hand at tackling this dual gamesmanship. It has tackled these games for at least 100 years now. In the beginning there were exclusively predacious zero-sum losing games imposed on China. Today, China plays the non-zero-sum win-win games with friendly countries around the world. And it tolerates a diminishing number of zero-sum win-lose games from not-quite-cooperative partners, sometimes with optimism, largely because, as Clinton lamented, some players simply cannot resist their "human nature".

This unhelpful "human nature" is akin to the lingering presence of a ghost, the chaotic zero-sum "state of nature", a presumed original human state of perpetual war, of all against all. This "state of nature" became the political axiom for Thomas Hobbes, the prominent 17th century English political philosopher.

Hobbes' social contract theory, as an antidote to the original all-against-all state, became the theoretical justification for the formation of modern European nation states in the last two centuries. Yet the ghost lingers, even today. China, while sympathetic with Hobbes' intention, sought an antidote instead in a thoroughly transformed "benevolent human nature". Only this non-zero-sum "benevolent nature", Confucius insisted 2,500 years ago, can be the starting point of any viable socio-political arrangement.

The non-zero-sum stance displays a mindset of "abundance". In contrast, the zero-sum stance promotes a mindset of "poverty". When managed well, the world is really large and rich enough to bless every nation with abundance. Radical cooperation, rather than fierce competition, can bring about a world of abundance, both in mindset and in reality.

Correct cultural understanding among nations does make a difference, especially now when the world is rapidly globalizing in a most complex manner. Most of the time we do not do enough to know others; we let what we do not know, or worse, what we are not willing to know about others, hurt us.

Countless number of people across the world know a lot about and love traditional Chinese culture. Yet serious and stubborn cultural faux pas about China remains and hurts everyone. Take the Western understanding of the Chinese Long dragon, for example. Long is a cultural icon: Chinese people like to call themselves "descendants of Long". For the uninitiated majority, the assumption is that the Chinese Long dragon is essentially the same fire-breathing destructive, violent and aggressive dragon of the West - the predacious zero-sum dragon.

The exact opposite is true. The powerful Chinese Long dragon does not breathe fire to destroy. Instead, it brings nourishing rain for growth. Culturally, the Chinese Long dragon stands for auspiciousness, harmony, wealth and organic potency. It is the life-affirming and uplifting non-zero-sum dragon. With this truth, there ought not to be any eager latter-day-dragon-hunting knights in the world.

China's focus, during 2012 and beyond, is to realize the ancient ideal of a "moderately prosperous" (xiaokang) society, which is one of equity, security and harmony for the people. This is realized, in part, by peaceful non-zero-sum cooperation with the world. Such is the essence of China's "peaceful rise".

For the world at large, 2011 has been a year of turmoil and chaos. Financial and political crises triggered social unrest, spreading from North Africa, the Middle East, Spain, Greece, Israel and Britain to the United States. One hopes that 2012 fares better. It is time for the world to practice radical cooperation rather than continue pursuing fierce competition.

May the world welcome 2012 with the auspicious spirit of the Chinese Long dragon.

The author is a professor of Western and Chinese philosophy at Montclair State University in New Jersey,US.

(China Daily 12/29/2011 page9)