The importance of multilateralism in global politics

By George N. Tzogopoulos
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, October 26, 2020
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The United Nations flag flys outside the UN headquarters in New York, the United States, on Sept. 14, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

The 75th anniversary of the establishment of the U.N. has generated both celebration and skepticism. On one hand, the U.N.'s role in preventing a major, catastrophic war has been a success. But on the other, there is still much that needs to be done in order to improve its efficiency in several areas. 

When people dream about a better world, what they want are peace and happiness. They imagine common prosperity and equality. Can this happen when world leaders refrain from working together? 

The experience of the management of COVID-19 has been rather disappointing.

China became the focus of attention because the virus was first detected and reported in Wuhan. Despite criticism, the Chinese administration worked hard, brought the outbreak under control, achieved a balance between protecting public health and reopening the economy, prevented a second wave, and returned to normalcy. This has not happened in parts of the Western world. Some governments have preferred to politicize the issue instead of taking action and prioritizing public health. The U.S. is a notable example, where the death toll has now exceeded 226,000. 

During a speech at a high-level meeting to mark the 75th anniversary of the U.N., President Xi Jinping outlined China's proposals for the future. He offered four specific thoughts on how the U.N. mission could be improved: relying on justice and mutual respect, upholding the rule of law, promoting cooperation, and focusing on real action. 

President Xi also spoke about potential reforms to the global governance model. In so doing, he reiterated China's position on the need for developing countries to have fair representation and an equal voice. Debate about reforming the U.N. is not new, with several groups of countries presenting their own ideas over the years. Compromise over reforms to the U.N. is a difficult but achievable task – what appears more complicated at present is reaching agreement on the very importance of multilateralism. 

After the end of the Cold War, the U.S. proceeded alone on several fronts. The 2003 Iraq war is a characteristic example but far from the only one. Recently, President Donald Trump decided to withdraw the U.S. from the World Health Organization (WHO). Traditional partners of the U.S., almost all European countries, criticized this disengagement. There is no better or more suitable international body to deal with the pandemic than the WHO. But how can it complete its goal and correct mistakes when its biggest donor does not trust it even in the midst of a pandemic? 

President Xi made four references to "multilateralism" during his speech. This approach has been a pillar of the People's Republic of China's development throughout the 71 years since its founding in 1949 and will remain a principle it adheres to in the years to come. The recognition of the central role played by the U.N. in international affairs, which he repeated in his address, must go together with a new sense of responsibility. The implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, for example, remains a critical task. China is on track to eradicate poverty domestically by the end of the year but also significantly contributes to its elimination at the global level.

Xi also stated: "The U.N. embodies the aspiration of the over 7 billion people for a better life, and the U.N. Charter remains an important guarantee for world peace and development." In this regard, dialogue and cooperation are more required than ever before. Obviously, they do not guarantee common ground when unbridgeable differences appear, but they do facilitate a common understanding for joining hands and addressing global challenges such as COVID-19. 

Let's look to lessons from history and the failure of the League of Nations. The global U.N. family should be a space where all issues are discussed. Parochialism might temporarily serve political interests, but it only brings risks to future generations.

George N. Tzogopoulos is a columnist with For more information please visit:

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