Remarks by Professor Peter Kagwanja, President & Chief Executive at the Africa Policy Institute, During the Third International Forum on Democracy: The Shared Human Values, Jointly Organized by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), China Media Group and China International Communications Group (CICG), in Beijing, China on March 20, 2024

The world is on the cusp of a historic transition. It is transiting from a declining western-dominated global order to an emerging multipolar and more democratic world. At the heart of the transition is a battle of ideas between ‘hegemony’ and ‘multipolarity.’ An assertive China is leading the Global South in challenging the hegemonic theory and championing the reform of the global governance system. Since the opening up in the 1980s and 1990s, China has leveraged new technologies to become a major global power, with the world’s second largest economy and a world-class military.

China is now leading the South in a multipronged strategy to transform and democratize global governance. Its leadership is benefiting from what the 2024 “Two Sessions” parliamentary meetings billed as “new quality productive forces” (new energy, hi-tech manufacturing and artificial intelligence) which are spurring “high-quality growth” and development.

Conceptually, the push for the reform of the existing global governance system is challenging the flawed thinking that the world must have a hegemonic power with unsurpassed military, political, and economic prowess to underwrite global peace and harmony. After the World War II, the US-led West imposed a hegemonic victors’ order over the rest of the world. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the United Nations and other post-War institutions of global governance are neither inclusive nor democratic. As a result, a handful of powers, mainly Western, are on the table while the bulk of developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America are on the menu.

The transition to an equal, inclusive and orderly multipolar world is the most crucial global agenda today. This will provide all states the rights, equality, rule of law and opportunities in global governance.  Multipolarity is more about recognizing the value of unity in diversity and less about creating multiple blocs, disarray, fragmentation or balkanization.

Multipolarity means five interrelated transformations of our world:

First, Multipolarity is also about democratizing global governance.

The existing global governance system has a glaring “democratic deficit.” The ‘three distinct waves of democratization’ that Samuel Huntington describes so eloquently never translated into global democracy. On the global landscape, states have continued to wield unequal powers. Despite this, a democratic global governance is not a pipedream.  A multipolar world means building consensus and harmony, fair and just rules, and equality and greater interdependence among member states. As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently observed: “An equal multipolar world means equal rights, equal opportunities, and equal rules for every nation.” In a multipolar world, might is not right and countries are not grouped according to their “strength.” Instead, states uphold the universally recognized basic norms governing international relations and observe the principles of the U.N. Charter.

Second, multipolarity means championing economic globalization:

A multipolar world means inclusive globalization and economic democratization. Cast in the post-War hegemonic mould, globalization created inequalities in power and resources. In a multipolar world, economic globalization will be universal, inclusive and beneficial to all. By growing the economic pie and sharing it fairly and justly, inclusive economic globalization will reduce poverty, inequalities and imbalances.

A multipolar order will help counter unilateralism, protectionism, isolationism and other anti-globalization trends.  The rise of new productive forces is everywhere spurring high quality growth and boosting inclusive economic globalization. It is also re-position the South as the leading force for good in global economy and governance. China has emerged as the leading nation in science and technological innovations in the world. China, a champion of a multipolar order, is the world’s leading producer and user of solar photovoltaic panels, among other clean and green energy products. As the “world’s factory”, contributing more than 30 percent to the global economy and more to global growth than all the G7 countries combined, China is providing ‘global public goods’ to cushion the global economy from shocks and stress and to support developing countries. It is also supporting countries of the global South to chart their independent paths to modernization suitable to their specific national and regional contexts.

Three, Multipolarity is also about reforming existing multilateral institutions to make them more inclusive and democratic.

Existing global institutions such as the World Bank and IMF should never again be used to impose a one-shoe-fits all model of development onto the whole world. Instead, multilateralism should help sustain a rules-based global order. Multipolarity means the inclusion of the South in global policymaking.  The existing global governance system controls and affects the South. The “all-subjected” and the “all affected” principles require that the South is fairly and justly on the table of global governance, not on the menu. 2024 is a make-or-break year. As China’s ‘two sessions’ parliamentary meeting rightly observed, it is “a year of harvest for the global South” and a shining ‘ South Moment’ in global governance.

Four, multipolarity means strengthening emerging institutions of the Global South.

The South should not stop at reforming existing global institutions. Expanding and strengthening the multilateral organizations in the South is equally important in regional and global governance. The BRICS—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa has become a bold and loud voice for the South and a a new force for global justice, peace, harmony and inclusive economic globalization. In this context, multilateral initiatives by the global South should be seen as strengthening rather than competing with the existing international institutions.

In the post-COVID era, China has proposed three initiatives in support of global economic stability, peace and harmony. The first is the Global Development Initiative (GDI) to help the global community and United Nations to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS). Similarly, the Global Security Initiative (GSI) has advanced the course of global stability and addressed common security challenges. Finally, China’s Global Civilization Initiative (GCI) is enhancing unity in diversity among human civilizations.

Finally, multipolarity means deepening the institutions of China-Africa cooperation in development
. Africa is a strong voice for the reform of global institutions to create an equal and orderly multipolar world. It is also a major prompter of the multilateral institutions of the global South such as the BRICS. Over the last two decades, an effective architecture of China-Africa cooperation has emerged. This year, African countries and organizations will join China in the tri-annual Summit of the Forum on China – Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing. Notably, FOCAC is rooted in a long tradition of Sino-Africa partnership defined by ‘co-operation’, equality, mutual respect and ‘solidarity’. Between 2000 and 2018, China channeled an estimated $200 billion to support African development and the continent’s inclusion into the global markets.

Africa is also participating in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched in 2013 as China’s framework of delivering global public goods. Today, 52 out of 55 African Union member states had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China to participate in BRI. As a result, once dismissed by investors as a “hopeless continent”, Africa today is a “hopeful continent” on the rise and charting its own independent path to modernization.

In conclusion, China-Africa cooperation in the new quality productive forces is central to Africa’s successful integration into global economy and governance.

The rise of new productive forces not only signals a major shift in Chinese economic thought but also a people-centered and green development to secure our prosperity and our planet. As Africa and China embark on the road to Beijing for the FOCAC summit, the paradigm of new productive forces is set to accelerate high quality implementation of African Agenda 2063. It will also propel Africa’s efforts to realize its Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), the single largest market bloc in the world today. Strategic Sino-Africa partnership on the new productive forces will help break the poverty trap in Africa and enhance its inclusion in global governance. The future of Sino-Africa cooperation in the multipolar world looks bright, very bright.

Thank you very much, excellencies, friends, ladies and gentlemen.