Reflecting on and Redefining Multilateralism during and after the COVID-19 Pandemic——Jiemian Yang

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Reflecting on and Redefining Multilateralism during and after the COVID-19 Pandemic

Jiemian Yang


Multilateralism has long been existing in international relations and played an important role since the end of the World War Two. However, multilateralism is presently confronting with great challenges with the international combat against COVID-19 Pandemic. Multilateralism is at a critical juncture from a mere way of multilateral dealings to a key norm that governs international interaction at this new era.


1. The present should-be and what-is practices of multilateralism. The most frequented is what I would call it "fragmental multilateralism". Most of the believers and practitioners are from the rich countries. They hold tight to themselves those ranging from the medicines, equipments and vaccines. Another deplorable one is "politicized multilateralism". This practice is based on the political division and acts as if the coronus virus would stop short at political borders. The third one is "inclusive multilateralism", which is advocated and practiced by the United Nations, China and many others. They are not complacent in retreating into their limited haven while refusing joint international efforts in dealing with, controlling and preventing the Pandemic.


2. Mutually off-setting practices reflect mutually contradictory conceptions and theories. With the departure of the Trump administration, now more and more are talking about multilateralism but with different modifiers, such as effective multilateralism, selective multilateralism, competitive multilateralism and inclusive multilateralism.


3. The international community must strive for maximum agreement on multilateralism in both practice and concepts.

(1) Practices should be better coordinated by multilateral institutions and arrangements. (2) Consensus should be reached on the essence of multilateralism: respects and works for the interests and rights of all the members of international community. (3) New efforts should be made to re-conceptualize multilateralism so as to adapt to the fast changing world. Furthermore, new concepts should be accompanied by new efforts in institution building to apply these concepts to practices.


4. Lessons drawn from the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first two decades, the international community has been confronting with three meg-emergencies calling for global multilateralism and international cooperation. For the first two of 9/11 international terrorist attacks in 2001 and international financial crisis in 2008, the international community succeeded in mobilizing international cooperation with common belief in multilateralism, thus promoting the global governance. However, the third case of the COVID-19 pandemic has been far from meeting the originally similar expectation of international cooperation. Therefore, in terms of multilateralism and global governance, at least three lessons should and could be drawn in order not to repeat the same mistakes in the future.


First, in the increasingly globalized world, the international community should enhance its awareness and consciousness of multilateralism instead of unilateralism. Even to the much-criticized drawbacks of globalization, the international community should focus on its improvements instead of totally denying its importance. Some governments did go against the trends of our time, thus having lost an important opportunity to further advancing multilateralism to meet the global emergencies.


Second, the international community should give a due assessment to the political and security factors to non-traditional challenges in the present world. However, some governments and political forces have been trying hard to over politicize them for their own political and selfish interests. Consequentially, some conventional wisdom have been meeting un-scientific resistance and oppositions, such as the quarantines, social distances, face masks and vaccines. Hundreds of thousands of lives thus fell into the victims of over politicized motives.


Last but not the least, the international community should translate their hard-learned lessons to combating such specific emergence as COVID-19 into concept progress and institution building. To certain extent, conceptual and institutional enhancements are more important than a success in a specific case, because they can provide much more to meet the global emergencies.

(August 29, 2021)

2021年8月29日 08:51