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International Cooperation In The Harmonious World Politics Essay

Modernization and globalization has changed the world system after the Cold war and the world is undergoing complex and deep transformations in the new century. Some big powers are gradually dominating the world, while some developing countries are still rather restricted in the present international system and have certain difficulties in their domestic economic and social development. Under such background, some of these developing countries tend to learn from foreign countries and some others choose to shrink back into isolation, depend solely on national culture and try to solve all problems by themselves. Different from them, China, after long days of misery, finds the right way to deal with modernization and globalization, that is to connect with, rather than separate from the world system, and at the same time, puts forward its own idea and theory of development combined with its domestic situation and the cultural value. The term “Harmonious World” is one of the popular lexicons provided by China for talking about its ideal of international society in the age of globalization.

“Harmonious World” is a distinct perspective put forward by the new generation of Chinese leaders to describe a different view towards the whole international society. It is rooted deeply in traditional Chinese philosophy and emphasizes more on cooperation and mutual understanding between states. However, it may be utopia, as some realist scholars argue that states are self-interested and hard to cooperate. Neoliberalists hold another view that states could cooperate under some specific conditions because they consider more on the absolute gains rather than relative gains, but such kind of cooperation is also different from which China defines as a way to achieve “harmony”. So, is it possible for China to realize the ideal of building a “harmonious world” through cooperation? This paper tries to answer the question by analysis of China’s idea of “harmonious world” and compares it with the view of cooperation both in realism and neoliberalism. According my analysis, I argue that it is possible to build a “harmonious world”, but the process will be difficult and it is a long-term task which not only needs efforts from China, but also from the contribution of the whole world.

Following the introduction, I will first introduce the idea of “harmonious world” raised by China and make a comparison on the views of cooperation between realism, neoliberalism and Chinese perspective, including their different definitions on actors, contexts and goals in cooperative relationship. The second part will show some practices done by China to pursue its cooperation on regional and global level. The final part of the paper will deal with some problems and challenges on the process of building a “harmonious world” through cooperation and then give some suggestions.

From Cooperation to a Harmonious World

1. The Concept of “Harmonious World”

“Harmonious world” was first officially presented by the Chinese President Hu Jingtao at the United Nations summit making its 60th anniversary in 2005. This concept indicates that China, as a rising power, has shifted its attention from domestic development to taking both domestic and international situations into consideration. During the decades of reform and opening up, China mainly concentrated its energy on domestic economic development. Entering into the new century, China has achieved a lot in all aspects including economy, politics, military and culture. Guided by the principle that a rising power should make more contribution to international affairs and take more responsibility in the international society, Chinese government put forward the concept of “harmonious world”, in order to show its sincere and positive attitude toward the whole world and at the same time, call for “a bright future for the development of human society and build a harmonious world with permanent peace and common prosperity”. [1] 

Two years later, in the Seventeenth Party Congress Report, the “harmonious world” idea is given further explanations. A harmonious world is a world in which countries collaborate in five major areas: “Politically, all countries should respect each other and conduct consultations on an equal footing in a common endeavor to promote democracy in international relations. Economically, they should cooperate with each other, draw on each other’s strengths and work together to advance economic globalization in the direction of balanced development, shared benefits and win-win progress. Culturally, they should learn from each other in the spirit of seeking common ground while shelving differences, respect the diversity of the world, and make joint efforts to advance human civilization. In the area of security, they should trust each other, strengthen cooperation, settle international disputes by peaceful means rather than by war, and work together to safeguard peace and stability in the world. On environmental issues, they should assist and cooperate with each other in conservation efforts to take good care of the Earth, the only home of human beings.” [2] Cooperation, emphasizing in these descriptions repeatedly, plays a key role in building a “harmonious world”.

2. Different Perspectives on Cooperation: Actors, Contexts and Goals

Cooperation is the main feature of a harmonious world, but to what extent can the international cooperation between states be achieve? Different schools of research in international relations give different answers. This debate of international cooperation has existed between realism and neoliberalism for a long time. The differences mainly base on their different definition of actors in international relations, the contexts of cooperation as well as the goals of cooperation.

2.1 Realist and neoliberalist view of cooperation

Realists hold a state-centric view that states are the major actors in world affairs. States enjoy authority to govern matters within its own borders and meanwhile, they are self-interested. [3] States operate under the context of international anarchy, which, to realists, is the principal force shaping the motives and actions of states. These self-interested states in anarchy tend to rely solely on themselves because they take their power, security and independence so important that the cooperation with other states would appear to be limited since whether other states are friends or foes in such a context is uncertain. They often fail to cooperate because they worry not only about absolute gains for themselves, but also about relative gains for other states. As Grieco argues “the fundamental goal of states in any relationship is to prevent others from achieving advances in their relative capabilities” [4] . That’s why, according to realists, states may be unwilling to cooperate even in the face of common interests [5] .

The neoliberalists give a different view. First, besides states, there are other key actors in world affairs such as specialized international agencies and their technical experts, political parties, trade associations, supranational bureaucracies, labor unions, transnational coalitions and so on. Second, world politics includes a rich variety of contexts. Even if the realists are right in arguing that anarchy prevents states to cooperate, other concerns such as technology and interdependence of domestic welfares on international society can undermine the force of international anarchy and therefore states can work together and can do so especially with the assistance of international institutions [6] . Third, to neoliberalists, international cooperation can achieve because states focus primarily on their individual absolute gains (gains without reference to other states’ benefit). They try to maximize their absolute gains and are indifferent to the gains of others. So long as cooperation can bring an absolute gain, whether other states can gain or lose is not so important. Therefore, states themselves will be motivated to cooperate in order to achieve absolute gains. Long-term cooperation interactions may guarantee long-term absolute gains if institutions act as the mediator to prevent cheating in the international system.

Whether states can sustain a long-term cooperation depends upon their capabilities to learn rules of interaction and cooperation. Game theory, a direct and systematic approach to questions of strategic interaction, is used both by realists and liberalists. One important game in this theory is the Prisoner’s Dilemma (PD), which involves two self-interested, self-reliant players, a symbol of Realist conception of sovereign state in international relations. [7] Each player faces a simple choice in this game: to cooperate or to defect. Cooperation under the conditions given in PD is hard because there are several restrictions defined in the fundamental form of the game, for example, each player can move only once, they cannot rely on any outside assistance and cannot communicate with each other either. Under these conditions, each player will maximize his own reword by defecting, regardless of what the other does. [8] But real world is not as simple as in PD. Actually, these restrictions in PD suggest some practical solutions to problem of cooperation in real world. For example, if the game can be played repetitively, the greatest benefit will come from the prisoners’ cooperation as they may know more about the rules and know more about each other. According to Charles Lipson, if third parties can guarantee contracts, or if a player uses TIT-for-TAT strategy and cooperate on the first move, the cooperation between two actors will be possible for joint gains. Axelrod and Keohane give some other ways to facilitate interstate cooperation. A fundamental one is the concept of reciprocity. Cooperation in world politics could be attained by conditional cooperation but it requires the ability to recognize and retaliate against a defection. Another way is to establish international regimes, which could reinforce and institutionalize the reciprocity. [9] 

To sum up, for realists, the actors in international society is states while for neoliberalists, they are states and other international institutions. The context of cooperation is anarchy for both realism and neoliberalism. However, neoliberalists tend to believe that anarchy doesn’t mean the impossibility of cooperation. Other factors such as technology and interdependence of domestic welfares on international society may motivate states to cooperate. The possibility of cooperation, to realists, is very low, albeit not impossible, while in the view of neoliberalists, cooperation between states can achieve because they often have common interests and cooperation will help to maximize these benefits.

2.2 Chinese perspective: from cooperation to harmony

Based on its distinct traditional philosophy, China has a different understanding of cooperation. It is an instinctive act to cooperation because Chinese philosophy believes that human beings are naturally kind. States, like individuals, will tend to cooperate since this will benefit for both of them. Compared with realism and neoliberalism, Chinese perspective shares some common views and meanwhile holds some different attitudes on cooperation.

China’s view of actors

On the definition of actors, Chinese perspective is similar to the definition given by neoliberalism. States are not the unitary role in the international system. The actors in international relations include states, as well as other non-state actors, such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), transnational economic actors—banks and multinational companies (MNCs) and international organizations. Such non-state actors take part in international activities and help or guide states to do what they should do. What’s different and more important is that on the views of the key actor, namely, the states, Chinese perspective does not only concentrate on some big powers in international relations like realists. They think that there should be a balance concentration between dominant powers and others, rich and poor, and Western and non-Western world.

China’s view of contexts

There is a Chinese term da-tong (大同) meaning Grand Union, Grand Common or Great Harmony in traditional Chinese philosophy. Based on such philosophy, China holds a distinct view on the world, which is different from the long-held concepts of national interests and national security by Westerners. China views the world as a whole, not just for one’s own state and unlike the Western thinking based on the nation-state analytical unit, Chinese understand issues from a global perspective and assume a sense of responsibility for the whole world. [10] In the da-tong society, everyone can coexist peacefully and harmoniously. Every state in the world, like every individual in a family, could communicate sincerely and help each other even there is no reward for this because the world is a family. Although utopia, such philosophies guide China to form a more moderate and tolerant attitude toward the world.

Since the context is not anarchy as realists or liberalists indicate, cooperation can achieve under the world of “Grand Common”. Indeed, this coincides with the description of international situation in the present era by Chinese leaders. The main themes of the present era are peace and development. Pursuit of peace, development and cooperation has become an irresistible trend of this times and the overall stable international situation will facilitate the global and regional cooperation. [11] Although the present world has not achieved the “da-tong” society defined in traditional Chinese philosophy: Hegemonism, local conflicts, imbalances of world economy as well as threats to global security still exist, but this cannot prevent most of the world to cooperate under the condition of equality and mutual respect, to promote democracy, harmony, collaboration and win-win solutions in international relations. In fact, the existence of certain degrees of conflict in the world is due to the different cultures between states. From the Confucian perspective, different cultures are complementary to each other and the conflicts can be eliminated if every state takes a positive attitude to cooperate and finally reaches the status of harmony.

China’s view of goals

What’s the goal of cooperate? To construct a “harmonious world” will be the answer given by China. It doesn’t take account of relative gains in realism, neither of absolute gains in neoliberalism. The final goal of cooperation, under the concept of “harmonious world”, is to bring a bright future for human beings. Different from the narrower concept given by mainstream Western theory of international relations, Chinese perspective stands a higher point to view the whole world and consider for the whole human beings.

Harmony is rooted in the traditional Chinese culture. A lot of philosophers conclude that Chinese culture is a culture of “harmony”. Axelrod and Keohane argue in their article of “Achieving Cooperation Under Anarchy: Strategies And Institutions” that harmony requires complete identity of interests [12] , but in China’s definition, harmony not necessary means complete sameness. Confucius, one of the most important Chinese philosophers, expounded the philosophical concept of “harmony without uniformity”, meaning one can balance differences and contradictions and finally achieve harmony. Harmony is a more tolerant status, which can coexist with difference and diversity. As Daniel A. Bell, an expert in the study of Confucian political philosophy, interprets, Confucians view the world as a harmonious political order without state boundaries and it should be attained by means of benevolence without any coercive power. This philosophy of harmony greatly influenced Chinese foreign policy, one of which is the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. This principle points out that considering one’s own strategic interests as well as respecting for interests of other countries are both important in dealing with international relations and international issues should be solved on the basis of mutual respect and equality. Since the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence has accepted by many countries, Chinese government further raised the idea of “harmonious world” to emphasize the cooperation between states, showing the confidence of constructing a brighter future.

In conclusion, according to Chinese perspective, it is possible for various kinds of actors in international relations to cooperate in the contexts of peace and development for the same goal of building a “harmonious world”. Chinese and Western culture are various in many aspects. That’s why they form very different views on the world since culture is the foundation of ideas and theories. Western culture values individualistic, independent so that they concentrate more on single actor and its interests in international relations, while Chinese culture is group orientated and values harmony and stability, which gives them the tendency to take the world as a whole to consider, not just unitary aspect in it. Western view is realistic while Chinese view is ethical. It is partial to say which one is more accurate because they both can explain part of the world.

China’s Practices to Build a Harmonious World

According to traditional Chinese philosophy and the identity about the actors, contexts and goals of international cooperation defined by China, it is possible to build a “harmonious world” with all countries’ efforts in the future. China, as the initiator of the idea “harmonious world”, implements and promotes it within its own path for peaceful development and has achieved a lot domestically, regionally and globally.


Before providing the idea of “harmonious world”, Chinese President Hu has put forth the idea of “harmonious society” to guide China’s domestic development policies. As early as in 1997, the task of building an all-round well-off society (xiaokang shehui) in China was set at the 15th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. Inherited the basic concept of a well-off society from his predecessor Jiang Zemin, President Hu and the new administration raised the new domestic policy ideas “scientific development” (kexue fazhan) and new developmental objectives of “harmonious society” (hexie shehui). Since the adoption the policy of “reform and opening up”, China has put its own economic development as top priority. Till now, China has been the world’s fastest-growing economy and the world’s second largest economy after the United States. The peace and stability in domestic development cultivate a comfortable environment for progress in every aspect in China, including politics, culture, technology, education, and so on. It is foreseeable that such kind of development will be sustained and it’s time to shift attention from domestic development to take both internal and external situation into consideration. Cooperation with other countries and achieving a win-win situation are the best choice for China.


A good secure and cooperative environment will facilitate development. Since the late 1990s, the Chinese government not only gave attention to its bilateral relations and gradually formed a strategic plan to integrate China into Asia by promoting regional cooperation and took the process as an important option for China’s diplomatic strategies. The aim of these strategies is to construct a cooperative, stable and prosperous Asia. Now, China has taken part in a number of regional organizations such as APEC, and at the same time, following the principle of “opening-up, toleration, and complementing each other’s strengths” guided by the theory of “open regionalism” [13] , China also promoted and created some new regional cooperation organization such as Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), ASEAN+1 (10+1), ASEAN+1 (10+3) and so on. Advancing East Asian integration is one of the important focuses of China’s Asian diplomatic strategy. In 1997, the regional cooperation framework “ASEAN+3” was established by the East Asian nations, in which there are three “10+1” coordination and cooperation arrangement among China, Japan, Korea and ASEAN. The Chinese government believes that a stable, prosperous and harmonious East Asia will benefit from the realization of the East Asian regional cooperation integration and the construction of the East Asian community, and eventually a stable international order in the Asia-Pacific region will be constructed. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pointed out at the 10th “10+3” Summit Meeting that “China remains committed to East Asian cooperation and will work with other countries to promote peace and development and build an East Asia of peace, prosperity and harmony.” [14] 

Another important cooperation organization in central Asian region is Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). In 1996, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan established a summit meeting in Shanghai to discuss and solve the enhancement of military trust and disarmament in border areas. These five countries signed the Treaty on Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions in Shanghai and the “Shanghai Five” was created. On June 15, 2001, the heads of the five member nations and Uzbekistan met in Shanghai, signing the Declaration of Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the SCO, including six member states, was officially founded. The aim of the SCO is to strengthen mutual trust and good-neighborly friendship between various member nations; all the member states comply with the principles of mutual respect, noninterference in each other’s internal affairs, not using or threatening to use military force, and are committed to maintain and safeguard peace, security and stability in the region. [15] By now, the member states of the SCO not only cooperated on military, but also initiated large-scale projects related to transportation, energy and telecommunications and held regular meetings of security, defense, foreign affairs, economic, cultural, banking and other areas. It is a multinational organization with a far-ranging and comprehensive mutual interests and activities.

Besides, China has established friendship and cooperation with South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in South Asia, which is made up of eight member states: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives, Bhutan and Afghanistan. In north Asia, China is trying to construct a cooperation framework among China, Russia and Mongolia (CRM), aiming at strengthening cooperation in the areas of economics and trade through diplomatic efforts at the national level. To conclude, China has established or taken part in the cooperation mechanism in Asian region: a “10+3” framework and SCO in central Asia, SAARC in the southwest Asia and CRM in the north. Such success in construction of cooperative system in regional level done by China has proved that cooperation is a possible way to build a “harmonious world”.


Not only widening and deepening the cooperation in Asian region continuously, China is also trying to form a global cooperative relation to advance the construction of “harmonious world”. Taking Asia as the foundation and backing, China is striving to cooperate with various countries and regions all over the world, including Asia-Pacific nations, North American nations, European nations, African nations, Latin American nations and so on.

In Asia-Pacific region, the cooperation on a larger scale is established based on the framework of “ASEAN+3” and another important trans-regional economic cooperation mechanism for the whole Pacific region—Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). The role of APEC is to impel the liberalization of regional trade and investment and strengthen economic and technological cooperation between member nations. [16] Officially joining APEC as a sovereign state in November 1991, China regards APEC as a main platform to carry out economic and technical cooperation between both developing countries and developed countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

China-EU merchandise trade blossomed in the 1980s, as for China, European provided technology transfers, development assistance and investment and for EU, China’s large market and trade opportunities were most attractive. Since China joined the WTO, goods trade between China and EU grew rapidly. In 2003, Chinese President Hu attended the first annual China-EU summit and formed a “comprehensive strategic partnership” [17] Another typical model for cooperation is the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM), which serves as a multi-level and multi-domain cooperation arrangement in economy, finance and technology. China supports and participates in cooperation between Asia and Europe to strengthen and develop friendship and cooperation with Asian and European countries. [18] 

China also plays a vital role in promoting cooperation between Asia and Africa, as well as Asia and Latin-America. Conferences and meetings such as the Asian-African Subregional Organizations Conference (AAS), the East Asia-Latin America Forum (EALAF) will realize comprehensive friendship and cooperation on the basis of mutual benefit and win-win relations in these regions. China’s relationship with some major powers such as United States, Russia and Japan are characterized by a great deal of cooperation and competition. Competition doesn’t mean conflict. It is the cooperation that can maximize the benefit and get to a win-win situation.

All these work and efforts done by China to promote cooperation regionally and globally is to show China’s sincerity to build a “harmonious world”. Much of these cooperation mechanisms are now operating smoothly and successfully. The facts can prove that cooperation is not so hard as realists argue. And indeed, it is possible to cooperate on many aspects between states.

Challenges and Proposals to China

Entering into the new century, China has done a lot to promote its idea of “harmonious world” through cooperation. China puts forwards its own idea of development and tries to find a suitable path for it. From Chinese leader Deng, Jiang, to Hu, China’s efforts to pursue a peaceful, stable and sustained cooperation system with its neighbors as well as the world has succeeded on a large scale. However, to achieve a “harmonious world” is not an easy task and cannot be done by China alone in a short period of time. China is on the way of development, and still facing many problems and challenges.

First, the world is under an imbalanced development. Some countries hold big power and control the direction of the modernization, while some others are besieged by war, riots and poverty. People in these countries lagging far behind modernization may feel disappoint and desperate, even running the risk of going to extremism and terrorism. Some parts of the world are undergoing a terrible situation. 9/11 shocked the whole word, and terrorism became an imminent threat to human security. The Iraq War in 2003 caused further problems and uncertainties, while the Afhgan situation remained in discussion. The problem of imbalanced development could not be solved easily as these countries are so different and have variable cultures. It needs efforts of the whole society to change these unfair and unjust factors in the international system step by step.

Second, although China has made great progress in the development of domestic economy, it does not necessarily mean that China has owned a more harmonious social environment. Widening regional disparities, a tattered social and welfare system, structural poverty and environmental concerns, all of these problems are waiting for resolution in present China. At first, China should keep development of itself, not only on economics, but also all aspect including hard power and soft power. China’s hard power resources are still weaker than many other major powers like the U.S., and its soft power is also in construction. China needs more efforts. And meanwhile, achievement in cooperation with parts of the world does not necessarily mean that to build a “harmonious world” is an easy task. In fact, this will be a long-time project and need efforts from all countries in the world.

Third, as mentioned above, there are many different answers to the question of how to cooperate and to what extent the cooperation can achieve. Ideologies and psychologies such as mutual suspicious, mutual distrust are very popular in some countries. The existing cooperation in international society is regarded as exception or temporary one. It is reasonable since the world is not a perfect society without conflict. It is difficult to reach better consensus on “harmonious world” and China needs long-term efforts to promote its idea and goals.

Problems and challenges cannot prevent China to pursue its idea of construction a “harmonious world”. In the period of rapid social and economic transition, what China can do is to start within itself, trying to give a more balanced development in domestic and meanwhile, cooperating with equality and mutual respect in bilateral, regional, as well as global level to achieve the target of “harmonious world”. China, as a rising developing country, should take its duty better for the world’s peace, development, security and stability. It’s time for China to be a responsible big power not only because this is an expectation from China’s neighbors and members of the international community, but also it is also one of the goals to achieve a “harmonious world”. On the one hand, China should stress cooperation and win-win with the rest of the world to eliminate anxieties from many countries wondering whether China’s rise will really be peaceful. On the other hand, having made great efforts in participating in the international affairs such as dealing with DPRK’s nuclear issue and the Middle East issue, increase in development and humanitarian aid, sending certain number of soldiers to join in the peacekeeping action, China could undertake more duty to involve and contribute to global peace and development.


“Harmonious world” is not only a vehicle of political power raised by China, but also a proposal, expressing in Chinese perspective, to the direction of the world’s development. This idea, originating from the traditional Chinese philosophy of “harmony is most valuable” (he wei gui), is in full accord with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. A “harmonious world” means realizing common security with the UN in international cooperation to ensure global security, means to settle international disputes or conflicts through consultations and negotiations, means a universal, coordinated and balanced development in the world, a world where all civilizations coexist harmoniously and accommodate each other. [19] There are still many criticism of the idea of “harmonious world” for its idealistic and impractical concept, but any policy must include some ethical target and pursuit of ideals. “Harmonious world” is indeed an ideal goal with regard to the world development and China’s way to practice it, a goal leading the Chinese people to work hand in hand with other countries to create a better world.

Realism holds the view that states are all seeking to maximize their national interests and if ??????????,China, in its way of finding the right way to develop, does not simply follow the idea of realism or liberalism which are the main stream theory in international relations. It has its own understanding of the world and its own principles about the actors, contexts and goals of international system. It makes judgments objectively and fairly to decide what is right or wrong and what way will be best for the development of the whole world. The concept of “Harmonious world” takes all human beings into consideration. This peace-oriented view of the world means any actions in international relations has to be in favor of world peace since every actor should be responsible for the development of all human beings. It will be a hard task with efforts of long period of time to fulfill the ideal of “harmonious world”, but it is possible, and this possibility actually give us the hope and confidence to move on.

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