Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 06:15 | SYDNEY
Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 06:15 | SYDNEY

Common values: Beyond the beer with Kevin

21 February 2012 08:50

Robert Ayson is Director of Centre for Strategic Studies at Victoria University, Wellington.

I'm not sure if the punchline of the Guardian column highlighted by Sam is that Kevin Rudd should host the leaders of China and the US for a beer. The real point is the discussion on common values Timothy Garton Ash wants them to have. The guts of the column is Garton Ash's comment that:

Both the US and China must be prepared to get into a conversation about the terms of international order in the 21st century. Each country must remain true to its own values, but work to see where there is common ground – and where adjustment, compromise or simply agreeing to disagree are viable.

This notion, which Garton Ash takes from Rudd's recent Munich talk, is also found in Rudd's earlier call for a 'Pax Pacifica' between the US and China. The reliance on formal architecture gets a bit heavy in places, and it is hard for Australia or any other medium power keen to exploit the virtues of middle-power diplomacy to get the major powers to find agreement and manage their differences if they are themselves unwilling to do so. But talking about common values is spot on, because all the common interests in the world will not be enough for order to be really deep.

In a public lecture a few months ago, I had a go at spelling out what some of these common values might be. Here was my preliminary list:

First, accommodation: the major powers operating according to the principle that they should be finding room for one another. Second, respectfulness for the idea that all parties have central and vital interests, for their various constitutional and legal processes, and for property rights. Third, because these interests can be mutually exclusive, there is also a need for peacefulness; as in, the peaceful resolution of disputes when these eventuate.

Fourth, lawfulness, which might be found in endorsing the standards of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as a first point of reference in any maritime disagreements. Fifth, generosity: a mutual willingness to assist the poorer parts of the region and to help in times of natural disaster or similar calamity. Sixth, responsibility: taking seriously one's obligations to citizens' welfare, including the avoidance of severe repression. A seventh value is sustainability in one's treatment of the region's natural environment and natural resources.

Perhaps the cardinal value that we need above all to build the regional order is restraint. This eighth value can be reflected in tacit agreements not to challenge the interests of others through violent means and not to take the law into one's own hands.

These might seem a bit high and mighty. But we need these sorts of common values if the coming international order is going to be genuinely orderly. And they need to be shared by more than just the US and China. I mean really common values, held by medium powers, small powers, beer-drinking powers and teetotallers too. For the more we overcome the supposition that the world will be OK if only the US and China can agree on some ground rules, the better.

Photo by Flickr user Pedro Moura Pinheiro.