Global Governance of New Frontiers: China’s Perspective

China International Studies (English) - - Contents - Yang Jian & Zheng Yingqin

The new frontiers for global governance serve as a new stage for international competition and cooperation. By playing a successful role in the governance of these new frontiers, China can facilitate the establishing of a community of shared future for all mankind.

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, which have had serious impacts on our life. Moreover, these new frontiers have shown signs of disorder featuring growing international competition and outdated governance. Besides facing up squarely to these challenges, we need to think over 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 on governance. After all, it has not been long since human activities started in the new frontiers, and interests of the international society in these frontiers are relatively simple. The new frontiers are where the resources and space for our survival and future development come from, and sustain the shared interests and common concerns of all humankind. This is highly consistent with the idea of a community of shared future, and the new frontiers can therefore be a perfect platform to practice the philosophy.

Consensus Deficit: Main Challenge in New Frontiers Governance

There are three major problems in our governance of these new frontiers. First, human activities in these new frontiers have increased but the

Yang Jian is Vice President and Senior Research Fellow of Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS); Zheng Yingqin is Assistant Research Fellow at SIIS.

governance mechanism lags 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 the overall humankind. At the same time, we need to address challenges such as fragmentation in governance and competition for dominating the rulesmaking of governance. Despite the variety of challenges, the essential cause for all these challenges lies in the lack of consensus on governance philosophy.

First, the international community is divided on the identity of these new frontiers. The ownership of the sea, outer space, the polar regions, the cyberspace, or any other kind of new frontier is in one way or another not clear. Who owns these frontiers? Are they “global commons” or “terra nullius”? It is necessary to distinguish these two concepts since they are totally different in nature. The former means something owned by all and not by anyone specifically while the latter refers to something belonging to no one since it has not been occupied. Although it is widely believed among the international community that the vast majority of the new frontiers (high seas, seabed, ocean floors and their subsoil that are out of jurisdiction of any country, outer space, the Antarctic and some of the cyberspace) are “global commons” that are owned by all mankind, the new frontiers are often regarded as “terrae nullius” in practice. Great powers compete against each other to occupy them, increase their physical presence in those common domains so as to improve their influence, and even set the power game rule that whosoever enters first is the owner and whichever is practiced first becomes the law,1 like the “preemptive occupation” on outer space orbit resources and the location of Antarctic expedition stations. Another example is the United States’ position that cyberspace is a common domain, which is 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.2 Generally speaking, how to define the nature of

new frontiers is closely linked with the limitation on using state powers and with the allocation of rights and benefits. Some countries compete for and occupy the space and resources that should belong to the whole humankind, thus harming the shared interests of all. At the same time, it harms the due national interest of related countries that resources theoretically under the administration of a specific sovereignty are mistakenly regarded as common domain.

Second, the international community is divided on how to make rules and regulations in new frontiers, which reflects the lack of fundamental ethics and values to sustain the 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. Different sovereign states have different understandings and ways to deal with the relationship between the two interests, and therefore the models and approaches they advocated vary greatly. At present, there are a number of notable phenomena. To start with, the governance of new frontiers is now controlled by a governing club, that is, a group of states practicing de facto governance and control over the new frontiers. To some extent, “more investment, more payback” has become an unwritten rule in this regard.3 The rule means the more a nation inputs, the more it profits. Under this rule, countries with greater capabilities and capital would naturally desire for greater profits. However, the common domain in these new frontiers should fundamentally be shared and collectively owned. The nature of co-ownership means all the profits should be shared. National interests in the new frontiers should be limited instead of being maximized unlimitedly. Therefore, it is still to be answered which ethics and values could maintain a balance between specific national interests and global public interests.

There is a lesson we should reflect on. The United States, although quickly risng as a superpower, had failed to offer tenable values and public goods for the governance of the new frontiers in the five decades after WWII. Instead the US promotes hegemonism and maximizes its national interests unlimitedly with its technological advantages and military strength. As a result, the governance over new frontiers ended up either in arms race among great powers, or in the dilemma that interests are only shared by only a club of few countries.4 In pursuit of its own national interests and global hegemony, the United States changes the rules of new frontier governance, and even selectively plays along or violates the rules according to its interests. One remarkable example can be found in the cyberspace. In the early 1990s, the United States called for all countries to open up their telecom markets in order to promote its own ”global information superhighway” program. At that time the US advocated a globalization thinking of interdependence to gain economic benefits. But with the development of the internet, it was the first to build a cyberspace task force, and introduce the concept of deterrence into the field to seek an absolute strategic advantage in the cyberspace.5 The pragmatism the US adopted, self-contradicting in these different practices, cost a best chance to build a common code of conduct among nations such as “cyberspace as non-battlefield” and “information technology as non-weapons.” The US hegemonic thinking and exclusive security concept not only led to divided governance philosophies for the new frontiers, but also failed to offer a valid guide from great powers for the ethics and values in the whole process of governance. Since the end of the Cold War, the US has been used to making

The essential cause for all challenges in our governance of new frontiers lies in the lack of consensus on governance philosophy.

strategic goals by making “potential enemies” or “imaginary enemies” to maintain its military superiority, and it has applied the old thinking of security to new frontier governance. This US thinking of clear friend-foe division has harmed the building of common security in the new frontiers.

Community of Shared Future and New Frontier Governance

Improving global governance and promoting its reforms are not only to deal with various global challenges, but also to make rules and guidance for the international order and system; they are not only relevant to the competition among countries for the commanding height of development, but also to the status and role of countries in the international order and long-term institutional arrangements.6 The proposal of building a community of shared future for mankind is closely linked with the historical background. Given the deepening interpretation and practice of the concept, “building a community of shared future for mankind” has grown from an idea to an ultimate goal of Chinese diplomacy and has developed into a fundamental value for global governance. The formation and evolution of the concept, in which China’s global strategic concerns for development are engaged, reflect the changes in the global situation.

Connotation of community of shared future for mankind

First, the idea embodies the reality and need of coexistence. It is a new diplomatic concept that conforms to the general trend of global development in the context of deepening interdependence among countries and their intertwined national interests. This diplomatic strategy is based not only on the realistic demands that China as a rising world power should participate in building the international order, but also on the belief that this is the best and most beneficial way to guide global governance. Chinese President Xi Jinping, when analyzing about this general trend,

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