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To avert “lose-lose,” the West needs deeper reflection

Promoting cooperation among major powers is not an easy job, but indeed necessary. Restoring trust and building mutual respect should be the first steps. If the West genuinely aims to address the challenges facing global development, then it should take a further step in its reflection.

2 mins read
During this year's Munich Security Conference

The newly released Munich Security Report 2024 asserts that the world is descending into a “lose-lose situation.” Is this assessment accurate? And what kind of mentality of the West, Europe in particular, does it reflect?

If we take a look at the Munich Security Conferences in recent years, they shared the theme of reflection. This year follows the same tune. It’s fair to say that the “lose-lose” situation assessment is, to some degree, accurate.

The world today has entered a period of turbulence and transformation. For Western observers, they tend to believe that the current international situation is chaotic or even out of order.

That is why the report used a number of opposing concepts to describe their observations, such as “optimistic” and “pessimistic,” “absolute benefits” and “relative gains,” and to argue that “amid growing geopolitical tensions and rising economic uncertainty, many governments are no longer focusing on the absolute benefits of global cooperation, but are increasingly concerned that they are gaining less than others.”

In their eyes, international relations are increasingly viewed from the perspective of competition and confrontation, rather than from the standpoint of relatively optimistic and win-win cooperation when globalization was marching forward.

And the reason why I believe this assessment is partially correct is that the West’s reflection is based on Western-centrism.

On the one hand, they seem to realize that the world order, which is centered on the West and marginalizes the rest, has become increasingly difficult to sustain. Based on such a rational judgment, they must accept a decentralized or emerging multipolar world, and they must seriously treat the rise of non-Western countries and forces as equals.

But on the other hand, they cannot reconcile with the idea of relinquishing the center stage of the world. So, the West is grilled by a strong sense of loss and frustration, while still trying to stay confident in themselves.

Thus, the report proposes that “like-minded states” should pursue a “balancing act,” “selectively restricting the pursuit of mutual benefits to politically like-minded states.” In essence, this is nothing but to continue to maintain their supremacy in the name of the so-called rules-based world order.

If the West genuinely aims to address the challenges facing global development, then it should take a further step in its reflection.

The first thing is to rethink the relations among the world’s major powers, which may well determine whether the world would continue to struggle in the mud of the “lose-lose situation,” or could find a way out.

The restructuring of international relations among the West and the rest offers such a way out. In other words, major powers need to establish a healthy or correct relationship with other countries, particularly the Global South.

From Beijing’s perspective, it has always emphasized that the relationships between major powers must put responsibility and accountability at the front and the center, instead of pursuing global dominance or wealth.

Another point lies in that while major powers of the world share commonalities, they also differ in many aspects. They should try to find a balance between commonalities and differences in their interactions.

Nowadays, the West tends to overemphasize its differences with the rest of the world, like the political-institutional and ideological differences. That undermines the establishment of healthy relations.

For major countries to work together, they need to respect one another and deem their differences acceptable to each other.

Finally, major powers of the world should not exclusively spend their energy on purely pursuing their own interests; rather, they ought to prioritize efforts in helping the world overcome various problems.

If they allow themselves to be trapped in big-power confrontation, then they would only make the world a more dangerous place.

Promoting cooperation among major powers is not an easy job, but indeed necessary. Restoring trust and building mutual respect should be the first steps.

Cui Hongjian

Cui Hongjian is a professor at Academy of Regional and Global Governance at Beijing Foreign Studies University and the deputy director of Chinese Association for European Studies.

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