"The pen is mightier than the sword." For nearly a decade, Brahm has used newspaper articles, magazines and authored over 20 books to explain current affairs, reshape stalled negotiations, and provide a communication platform to Asian leaders and policymakers. His writings reveal underlying central challenges facing Asia over the past decades.
Written by Laurence Brahm - Published by South China Morning Post on 09/27/2005
In 1961, political philosopher Franz Fanon, among the most important theorists of Third World revolution, wrote: “The fundamental duel … between capitalism and socialism is already losing some of its importance. What counts today, the question, which is looming … is the need for a redistribution of wealth. Humanity must reply to this question, or be shaken to pieces by it.”
It would have been appropriate for this question to top the heads-of-state summit at the United Nations two weeks ago. For most part, it was eclipsed by UN reform, oil-for-food scandals and Iran.
However, President Hu Jintao did raise it, by connecting several interrelated issues. First, he stressed the UN’s role “can only be strengthened and must not be weakened”, adding: “We should all oppose acts of encroachment on other countries’ sovereignty, forceful interference in a country’s internal affairs, and willful use or threat of military force.”
China’s “peaceful rise” is consistent with this approach. If successful, it may be an example to many. By stressing the importance of the UN’s role, Mr Hu’s view was welcomed by many nations concerned by the American agenda of reducing its influence. If multilateralism can make a comeback over unilateralism, Fanon’s question may be a answered.
Mr Hu suggested that “we should work actively to establish and improve a multilateral trading system that is open, fair and nondiscriminatory”. Ironically, many protesters at the upcoming World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Hong Kong in December may, in substance, be calling for a similar agenda. Either agriculture is
subsidised for everyone or for no one. You cannot have discretionary rules for certain nations and not others. The president suggested that developing nations should shoulder more responsibility by using their own advantages to promote coordinated and balanced development, almost echoing Fanon. Mr Hu proposed specific initiatives regarding worldwide energy dialogue for ensured security and market stability. Given rising oil prices, some US companies and their patrons may not be enthused by the idea. Nevertheless, without a “state visit” this year, Mr Hu could speak unabashedly at the UN. He did, by questioning the Washington Consensus approach to development, most visibly through “shock therapy” models. He said: “Uniformity, if imposed on [developing nations], can only take away their vitality and cause them to become rigid and decline.”
In a way, Mr Hu may be boldly suggesting a re-engineering of values as an alternative to the Washington way. Fanon also advised: “The Third World ought not to be content to define itself in the terms of values which have preceded it. On the contrary, the underdeveloped countries ought to do their utmost to find their own particular values and methods, and a style which shall be peculiar to them.”
The China model to transitional reform may be held up as an argument for other countries seeking independent paths to economic, social and political development.
Of most critical importance, Mr Hu stressed, was that “we must abandon the cold war mentality … and build a fair and effective collective security mechanism aimed at preventing war and conflict”.
Interestingly, Fanon wrote: “The cold war must be ended, for it leads nowhere. The plans for nuclearising the world must stop, and large-scale investments and technical aid must be given to underdeveloped regions. The fate of the world depends on the answer that is given to this question.”
While the UN summit was convened in New York ostensibly to address this question, did it provide an answer? Will this December’s WTO meeting in Hong Kong provide an answer? At least Mr Hu stood up and asked the question. Others should start asking, too.
Laurence Brahm is a global activist, international mediator, political columnist and author. He is the leading advocate of a fresh development paradigm - The Himalayan Consensus - an innovative approach to development.