Origin and use:
This phrase was first used by Xi Jinping’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, in his report to the 18th Party Congress in 2012, in which he called for awareness of a “community of common destiny” to take root among China’s neighbours. Under Xi, building a community of common destiny has become the overarching objective of Chinese foreign policy – not just regionally, but globally.
The term, a defining aspect of “Xi Jinping Thought”, was written into the Chinese constitution in October 2017. It was also incorporated into a UN Security Council resolution for the first time in March 2017, in a unanimously adopted resolution to renew the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s mandate for a year.The phrase appeared again when China hosted a global forum to showcase its own take on human rights in December 2017. The first South-South Human Rights Forum brought together more than 50 mostly developing countries and resulted in the Beijing Declaration. The statement envisaged that “a community with a shared future” would create “a world of lasting peace, universal security, common prosperity, openness, tolerance and cleanness”, so that humanity “is free from fear, from poverty, from disease, from discrimination and from isolation”. While all of these are laudable goals, it is concerning that the definition does not include a world in which human rights are respected, legally protected by a rule-of-law system, fulfilled and promoted.
Instead, the phrase has been consistently pushed by the Chinese government in recent years to project a model that emphasizes economic development, cooperation and, above all, national sovereignty at the expense of individual human rights. It has been repeatedly used in reference to the Belt and Road Initiative, where it has been explicitly linked to prosperity. The phrase as it is used by China today describes a world that operates through mutual cooperation rather than what it claims to be the self-interest of the “old” world order, dominated by Western powers.
Implications for human rights:
The inclusion of this concept in UN documents gives it legitimacy. Every time it appears in a document that has been accepted or condoned by other countries, it offers support for and endorsement of “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”. As a phrase coined by the Chinese Communist Party and embedded in the Chinese constitution, it confers unusual authority to a single country and a single party whenever it appears in international texts.
In this reading, development goals risk becoming divorced from and prioritized over human rights and international relations are to be governed by cooperation between states, not mutual accountability of the international community to protect universal human rights. As a result, this new “consensus”, as China calls it, could significantly undermine international human rights diplomacy and effective international human rights protection.