BY WANG XIAOZHU
As I checked in at a Beijing hotel the other day, my attention was caught by a massive world map on the wall behind the reception desk. What struck me was not its size, but the fact it was different from the maps I’d seen displayed in Europe.
In this map, the central point was the Pacific Ocean rather than Western Europe. This naturally placed China much closer to the “center of the world” than European maps.
Drawing a world map is an egocentric business, and it is not unusual for a country to place itself in the middle of the canvas.
The United Kingdom has featured at the center of most world maps since 1884, when 22 countries voted to recognize the prime meridian, which runs through Greenwich in London. This was decided based on historical, economic and cultural factors.
However, France abstained and its cartographers continued to use the Paris meridian as zero degrees longitude until the early 1900s.
In maps from 1,000 years ago, Jerusalem took center stage, as it was the center of the Christian world. More recently, you will find some world maps made in the United States in which North America is central, with Eurasia split in two, one half at each side of the canvas.
It’s not too hard to understand such behavior. Every nation has its pride, while some states have a sense of manifest global destiny.
The UK, once a global power, has struggled to adjust to its more regional status since the mid-20th century, although British Prime Minister Theresa May has promised that the UK will re-emerge as a “truly global nation” after it leaves the European Union.
Meanwhile, political pundits have suggested that US President Donald Trump’s pledge to “make America great again” points to a renaissance in the country’s sense of manifest destiny, a rebirth in its pursuit for exceptionalism and the belief that it has been divinely appointed to redeem mankind.
China, too, has long considered itself the center of the world, as suggested by its name in Mandarin: Zhongguo, which literally translates as Middle Kingdom.
A belief in greatness may help a nation stay strong and bring its citizens closer, especially in times of turbulence, but it may not be what’s best for today’s world, when globalism is giving way to rising nationalism, and when the world today is full of narcissist politicians and egos.
I think it’s unnecessary to name them as we all know who they are.
State leaders should be calling for multilateralism, not looking to stress their countries’ global influence only.
Prospects for the international community might look bleak, as the world looks now slipping back into great power rivalry, yet there are signs of hope for a revival in multilateralism.
China has been telling the world that it’s a staunch supporter and beneficiary of multilateralism.
In a recent speech, Chinese President Xi Jinping confirmed China doesn’t aim at building any geopolitical or military alliance by pushing forward the Belt and Road Initiative. Xi noted that the BRI doesn’t “differentiate countries by ideology nor play the zero-sum game”, but aims at benefiting the people of the countries and regions involved.
Next week, many African leaders will gather in Beijing to discuss with their Chinese counterparts on China-Africa relations and other world issues at this year’s China-Africa summit, which is held every three years.
We can expect to hear more calls for multilateralism, and I hope more great powers will join this trend and leave their national pride behind, at least for now.
We don’t want to wait and see how the world is destroyed by narcissist politicians and egos.
A map is just a map. The globe will not change its shape, no matter how you draw it.
The writer is a foreign affairs analyst
This photo is in memory of the late Yang Shizhong, who was a former photographer with China Daily and a former colleague of the editor. Yang captured this remarkably lively moment, which is rarely seen in such high-level political conferences, at the closing ceremony of the China-Africa Summit in Nov 2006, also in Beijing. Credit goes to Yang Shizhong / China Daily.