Compelling cases for upholding multilateralism

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Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

On September 15, the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly kicked off. It was an important occasion to review the journey this international organization has traveled over the past three quarters of a century.

In retrospect, the UN's creation in 1945 after two devastating world wars was a watershed moment, inaugurating a new era of cooperation and multilateralism. The network of international covenants and institutions agreed and constructed has decisively supported the pursuit of peace and security, as well as economic and social improvements for over seven decades.

Today, 75 years on since the signing of the UN Charter, the spirit of multilateralism and global cooperation is more relevant than ever, as the world battles a deadly pathogen. COVID-19 has so far claimed over 961,000 lives and is still counting. Millions of jobs have been lost and the global economy is estimated to shrink by 5.2 percent this year, according to the World Bank.

The pandemic has laid bare the interconnected nature of our global village and the importance of effective multilateral cooperation. Unfortunately, even before the COVID-19 outbreak, multilateralism was under vicious assault, as nationalist and protectionist impulses gained popularity in certain parts of the world. In ways similar to 75 years ago, humanity has once again come to a crossroads. Where is the world headed? What can we do collectively to pull the world economy out of the doldrums?

China's answer to these questions is clear: Firmly uphold multilateralism and build a community with a shared future for mankind. Indeed, as the reality of COVID-19 sinks in, the crucial role of multilateral institutions such as the World Health Organization has been readily apparent. Leading the global response to the pandemic, the WHO worked closely with governments to prepare their health systems for the ravages of the novel coronavirus and pool resources in COVID-19 response, from testing to therapeutics and to vaccine development.

As the fight against the coronavirus lingers on, countries must also deal with the wider socioeconomic impacts of the crisis. And we must not lose sight of the myriad challenges already facing humanity before COVID-19 hit: terrorism, climate change, data security, as well as sustained economic slowdown, disruption to global supply chains, high unemployment and poverty. All are too complex and multifaceted for any one nation to tackle on its own.

Stronger international cooperation is particularly relevant when it comes to helping the most vulnerable of nations. In April, the G20 announced the Debt Service Suspension Initiative, offering debt relief to tide over the poorest countries during this difficult period. Such a multilateral undertaking is urgently needed to allow low-income countries to concentrate their resources to fight the pandemic.

Much remains to be done. To pave the way for economic recovery, it is crucial that governments work together to restore the flow of goods and people. This means putting safe measures in place, and minimizing disruptions to cross-border trade and global supply chains.

As we saw in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, multilateral cooperation is essential for coordinating national policies and maintaining global economic stability. The virus has highlighted the imperative for fulfilling the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, especially those related to health and social protection. With only 10 years left to attain the goals, a multilateral approach that integrates social, economic and environmental priorities is all the more compelling.

As one of the first countries that put its signature on the UN Charter, China has all along been a champion and defender of multilateralism. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19, China has shared its containment experience and fully supported the work of the UN. China donated $50 million to the WHO and provided medical supplies and emergency assistance to 150 countries and four international organizations as of May 31, according to China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. China will fully deliver on the actions announced by President Xi Jinping at the 73rd World Health Assembly on May 18 and implement the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative for the poorest countries.

After all, humanity all lives in the same community with a shared future. Helping each other out in times of adversity is as much a necessity as it is a moral imperative.

"We the peoples...," the three words with which the UN Charter begins, should serve as a reminder that multilateralism and global solidarity are the best and last line of defense for humanity.

Instead of turning inward and breaking away from each other, nations should come even closer and make multilateralism work better for everyone. China stands ready to work with all the other countries to get over this difficult period and build a community with a shared future for mankind.

The author is an observer of international affairs.

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