Points of View

Kofi Annan: Towards a More Harmonious World Order

APR . 24 2015
Mr. Kofi Annan, chairman of the Kofi Annan Foundation and former secretary-general of the United Nations, gave a speech at Peking University on April 22, 2015. He shared that as UN secretary-general from 1997 to 2006, his role “was to try to maintain or bring harmony among states, and indeed within countries that had fallen into violent conflict”. Having had ten years of experience at the helm of the UN, he has “arrived at the conviction that harmony is grounded on three, mutually-supporting pillars”.

First Pillar of Harmony: Peace and Security

The first pillar that Mr. Annan identified was peace and security.

“In historical terms,” Mr Annan maintained, “the world has seldom been as peaceful.” There has not been a war between major powers in decades. Yet despite this progress, Mr. Annan noted that the international order is changing. In the Western world, the financial crisis of 2007-2008 as well as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have led to calls for disengagement and retrenchment. At the same time, ancient civilisations like China and India are “reclaiming their historic place in world affairs”. He charged that international cooperation is vital to manage these changes in the world order.
Second Pillar of Harmony: Sustainable and Inclusive Development

The second pillar of a harmonious world is sustainable and inclusive development.

Throughout history, there has not been another period like the past two decades, when the world has created more wealth than it had ever before, “improving the lives of billions of people in the process”. While the huge social and environmental costs that result from such development is faced around the world, Mr. Annan explained that “China is at the heart of it, having achieved extraordinary economic growth over the last thirty five years.” China has lifted many of its people out of poverty, helped the rest of the developing world, and has contributed to the achievement of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.
Third Pillar of Harmony: Human Rights and the Rule of Law

The third pillar is the respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Mr. Annan believed that “one of the problems of the last few decades is that so many powers have selectively applied and respected international law.” He noted that international relations have often been a tense contest between international law and power politics, yet all countries have recognised that a global rules-based system is vital for a harmonious world.

In regards to human rights, Mr. Annan reminded the audience that the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948 proclaimed the Universal Declaration on Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.
Thoughts on China

Mr. Annan also shared some of his thoughts and recommendations for China. He saw value added with the new financial institutions that China is initiating, and from which Africa could benefit, suggesting that such institutions will complement existing global organisations. He also believes that it is in China’s interests to see a more “prosperous and peaceful world based on common rules on international trade, investment, and market-based exchange rates”. In order to achieve this goal, China will need to play a more active role in addressing threats to international peace and security. Mr. Annan welcomed China’s recent announcement on carbon emissions as an important step in this direction. Finally, and of course not abandoning the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of states, Mr. Annan suggested that China can help bring harmony to troubled countries where it maintains a strong strategic and commercial relationship.

Mr. Annan concluded his address by explaining that we are living in a period of historic change in world affairs and that power and wealth are no longer the prerogative of one region, and he believes current global institutions must adapt to these changing times. Thanks to China’s domestic economic reforms and openness to the world, China has already reasserted its centrality in global affairs, and China has everything to gain by up-holding a rules-based international order while also working to re-shape that order to fit the new realities.
Finally, Mr. Annan re-affirmed his belief that the world order should be founded on the three pillars described above: “For I firmly believe that there can be no lasting harmony without peace and security, sustainable, and inclusive development, and the respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

Written by: Chia Wai Kian

Source: Office of International Relations, PKU