Relational Ethics of Globalization under the
Abstract Globalization has been going on for a long process, although controversial, never stopping the pace of development. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 which profoundly changed human society and human life, globalization has been facing unprecedented resistance and challenges. Returning to various debates on globalization ethics, analyzing various problems that occur in the process of globalization development, this article starts from relational ethics, aiming to demonstrate the rationality of the sustainable development of globalization in the post-pandemic era. It will argue that although globalization will have new forms and contents under the new situation, the overall trend will not be reversed. It stresses the signiﬁcance and urgency to explore the discourse construction of the human community with a shared future and the relational ethics of globalization in the post-pandemic era from the perspectives of history, reality, and methodology.
Keywords globalization, ethical challenges of the pandemic, discourse construction, the human community with a shared future
“Globalization” has remained a sustained focus since the 1980s. Bruce Mazlish once noted that just as Thomas Carlyle defined his times with “machinery” in his “Signs of the Times” published one and a half century ago, scholars can but deﬁne the times with “globalization” (qtd. in Yin and He 2014). Mazlish proceeded to term historians’ research on globalization after World War II as the “new global history” (qtd. in Liu and Wang 2019). However, COVID-19, which began to sprawl at the end of 2019 and quickly became another global “pandemic” after the 1918 flu pandemic, is almost redirecting the new-century human society with an astonishingly large number of countries and populations covered. Many countries have to close their borders, restrict traﬃc, and adapt their political, economic, and foreign policies. It seems as if the human society were returning to its primitive times of isolation from growing global interconnection. Echoing this retrogression are the unprecedented doubts and challenges towards globalization. Extreme nationalism, populism, and fundamentalism that advocated returning to tradition, native land, and locality and went to such extremes as to deny globalism were rampant for a time. In response to the current of antiglobalization, the Chinese President Xi Jinping (2021a) stressed at the Informal Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting recently that what should be done now is to remove walls rather than build them, to develop rather than isolate, to integrate rather than disintegrate, and to guide economic globalization towards a higher level of openness, inclusiveness, balance, and mutual beneﬁt. This proposition not only is positive in driving economic globalization, but also applies to globalization in the broader sense to include politics, economy, and value. Therefore, it requires us to understand globalization beyond its conventional sense and to respond appropriately to the ethical challenges posed by the pandemic reality and post-pandemic scenarios, and to make necessary exploration concerning the relational ethics of globalization.
2 Globalization and the Post-Pandemic World
While “globalization” as a special term was not widely used in the media until the 1980s, the value ideal contained in it indicates that it is a communication activity that continues to expand with human production, and an evolution from plurality towards pluralistic integration, from particularity towards universality, from estrangement and opposition towards inclusiveness and mutual learning in politics, technology, culture, and other respects. This requires us to understand globalization not merely from theoretical construction but also from the perspectives of time, space, and time-space relationship.
From the perspective of time, globalization can be understood in the narrower and broader senses. The former, also known as “short” globalization, refers to the internationalization and global village movement that originated in the 1970s-80s and grew rapidly in the 21st century. The latter, also known as “long” globalization, is a cross-region and cross- system process that has coexisted with human civilization, in which diﬀerent regions, tribes, nations, and countries with different natural environments, languages and communications, religious beliefs, and social customs gradually connect, influence, and penetrate one another. From the perspective of space, globalization covers multiple dimensions of space. It is actually a combination of time and space: It is an activity and process, as well as a concept and value. Held and McGrew (2005) deﬁned globalization in terms the extent of space-time communication and relative organizational change. They suggested that globalization is the expansion of the scope of influence, the acceleration and deepening of the influence of the model of cross- continental mobility and social interaction. It represents the changes in the human organizational structure connecting remote communities, and extends the tentacles of the power system of all regions and continents in the world.
To distinguish between globalization in the narrower and broader senses, it is necessary for us to characterize the term “globalization.” Early researchers tended to understand globalization as the deepening interconnection of economic activities among individual countries in a global context. To Daly (1999), globalization is the integration of national economies into the international economy through free trade, free capital flows, and less or
fully unrestricted migration of labor. This, however, is obviously insuﬃcient to cover globalization and its profound influence. In the Oxford English Dictionary, globalization is deﬁned as “the action, process, or fact of making global,” and “the process by which businesses or other organizations develop international influence or start operating on an international scale” (Oxford English Dictionary 2020). Giddens (2001) broadened the connotation of globalization as globalization of politics, technology, culture, and economy, labeling globalization as “our current way of life.”
Regarding how to understand the internal connection of globalization in different periods of time and on different dimensions, an often quoted paradigm is the division between “old” and “new” globalization eras (Cui and Zhang 2002). Keohane and Nye (1977) interpreted the connotational change of globalization from the perspective of increased interdependence and proposed the paradigms of “thin globalization” and “thick globalization.” They argued that globalization involves a transition from “thin” towards “thick.” An example of “thin” globalization is the silk road in history, which bridged the economies and cultures between Europe and Asia with trade activities in the areas along the line. “Thick” globalization is the process by which economic integration, technology transfer, idea popularization, and cultural diversiﬁcation become a universal aspect penetrating the world and in which globalism becomes increasingly thick, more intensive and the process of globalization becomes more rapid (Keohane and Nye 2000,
104-19). Given that the connotation of globalization points to the process
in which global connection increases, global consciousness begins to dominate international relationships, global values are accepted by diﬀerent cultures, and global organizations play a guiding role, the definition of globalization can be summarized as follows: (1) Globalization is a process by which individuals, organizations, nations, and countries break through existing material and spiritual isolation or shackles, and become connected or integrated by cross-national, cross-regional, and cross-continental means, from one dimension to multiple dimensions, from shallow to deep, and from material to ideas; (2) Globalization is a way of production and life. Its way of production in material and spiritual terms is the result of cooperation between diﬀerent regions and countries. The way of life in areas covered by globalization changes in response to the cross-influence of diﬀerent values;
(3) Globalization is an ideology that redirects people’s ideas or values from sticking to the isolated nationalism to embracing a pluralistic cosmopolitanism; (4) Globalization is an ideal state that advocates global vision, addresses issues concerning the global responsibility of nation-states and the global consequences of transnational businesses, and resolves to consolidate the human community with a shared future through interaction and cooperation.
The COVID-19 pandemic, since its outset at the end of 2019, has brought unprecedented challenges to globalization. Some people even attempted to take the pandemic as the dividing line between the “pre-pandemic” and “post- pandemic” eras. To date, as the variations of the virus and the expansion of the transmission chain weaken the eﬃcacy of vaccination, the world is still shrouded in the threat of the virus. However, compared with the early years of development, the international community is likely to stand at a turning point from the pre-pandemic to the post-pandemic era.
When talking about ethical issues in the post-pandemic world, the first thing to consider is whether fundamental changes will take place in the world in comparison with the pre-pandemic era and whether these changes will be universal. In face of the most widespread global pandemic in the 21st century, many authors have reflected on its potential influence on world development. Yuval Noah Harari, the author of A Brief History of Humankind, claimed in 2020 that the storm will eventually pass, but the choices we make now could change our lives for years to come. Other people are more worried that the pandemic will bring about a world “less open, prosperous and free” or even the “end of globalization” (qtd. in Yao 2020b, 583). Whatever the case, COVID-19 can serve as a landmark event in humankind’s history of globalization. The “wall building” will increase some people’s doubts, worries, and misunderstandings about globalization and add weight to their anti-globalization emotions. In this sense, examining these phenomena through an ethical lens will help better understand the ethics of globalization
in the pandemic and post-pandemic world.
3 Ethical Issues in the Pandemic and Post-Pandemic World
The voice of anti-globalization did not start from the outbreak of the
coronavirus. In fact, globalization has been accompanied by the noises of antiglobalization throughout its history, especially in the past two decades. Some Western scholars and politicians have often used major international events as evidence for the end of globalization. For example, the 9/11 attack in 2001, the ﬁnancial crisis in 2008, the proposed Grexit in 2012, the Brexit in 2016, Trump’s “retreats” in 2016, the China-US trade dispute have all been taken as the signs of what they call the end of globalization. Although most of the so-called ends have been proved to be just alarmist talks, their constant popularity, in one way or another, implies that globalization seems to be facing a problem that is insurmountable by itself. Before the pandemic, globalization problems fell into two categories: problems arising out of the nature of globalization and those arising out of the consequence of globalization.
In terms of its nature, as the tide of globalization originated from European and American countries, people often equate globalization to “Westernization.” For example, Robertson (1995) defined globalization as “the compression of the world and the intensification of the consciousness of the world as a whole” on the one hand, and claimed that globalization is a term used to describe the process by which the Western modernity concept spreads worldwide on the other hand. Wherever there is an obstacle in the Western-dominated globalization, people could argue that “the retrogression of globalization is not only caused by negative impacts, nor can it be recovered by a simple rerouting. As a movement, the globalization led by the United States and Western countries has come to an end. Some people even asserted that as an era, globalization has concluded. The world is about to enter a new post-globalization era” (Li 2017). In terms of its consequence, globalization as a double-edged sword, while promoting world prosperity and global integration, has produced many negative consequences, which have not only led to the disparity and polarization between rich and poor, but also aggravated the inequality of economic, political, and cultural exchanges among countries in diﬀerent regions (Singer 2017). Furthermore, although globalization offers a good platform for responding to global challenges, the fundamental structure of the world has not changed, nor has the global problems been reduced. Instead, energy and ecological problems are worsening due to the high production and consumption associated with
globalization. Transnational crimes, terrorism, refugee emigration, intellectual property infringements, and cyber hackers continue to sprawl due to the lack of international cooperation or insufficient global supervision. Meanwhile, though globalization narrows the gap between universality and particularity, the contest between global regulations and local features, between cultural diversity and value unity increases rather decreases. A new international justice system or cooperative mechanism has yet to be fully established while the existing system intensiﬁes disparity and opposition. All these have shaken the native standard systems of the modern-world nation-states and intensiﬁed the conflict between globalization and antiglobalization. These conflicts, coupled with the fast-changing international politics, has led to the rise of extreme conservatism and the prevalence of antiglobalization inside Western countries.
Instead of relieving existing contradictions, the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified existing problems and added many new controversies. In face of the spread of the global pandemic and the attendant contradictions, it is necessary to re-examine the political, economic, social, technical, linguistic, and cultural problems emerging in the process of globalization from the perspective of value.
Global poverty coexisted with global inequality before the pandemic and the importance of global inequality was overshadowed by the moral urgency of global poverty. The outbreak of COVID-19 has brought global inequality to the fore. British researcher David Morley (2021) described how diﬀerent power over—and access to—virtual reality between rich and poor Western families amplified the preexisting forms of inequality during the pandemic. He suggested that the coronavirus disclosed the fragility of the many deep-rooted hypotheses on which contemporary metropolitan life is based. The shortage of medical conditions (e.g., ICU beds, oxygen supply, number of respirators in some countries) during the pandemic has already led to unequal medical treatment, as reflected in the age, wealth, status, and regional differences. Chinese researcher Sun Liping (2021) quoted the observation of Professor Zhang Yujiao from MD Anderson Cancer Center: An immunity gap is taking shape due to the huge diﬀerence in vaccine scabies rates in individual countries and between them. Once developed countries open their borders after herd immunity, the world will be enormously
impacted. Those countries with an immunity gap may find themselves in a passive situation. The recent runaway of the pandemic is a very realistic example. Immunity gaps are very likely to affect the normal economic and social conditions of a country and even to change the future world landscape.
In view of its probability to force some nation-states back to isolation and confrontation, WorldPost’s editor-in-chief Nathan Gardels commented that the spread of COVID-19 revealed the degree of interdependence and the lack of global organizations, which were far from enough to address the various connections. He called for building new platforms to “cope with a connected world” (qtd. in Yao 2020b, 583). There raises a question: Why, in a world connected by globalization, are nation-states becoming isolated instead of united? Underlying the debate between nationalists and globalists over the particularity and universality of moral norms and value beliefs are the exclusive identity of their own nations or states and the escalation from personal egoism to national egoism. In terms of identity value, the should- be transparent cooperation among states and groups has changed into estrangement and non-cooperation (Fukuyama 2018). Increased divergence or opposition will undoubtedly endanger the overall interest of humankind, especially when concerning such global problems as COVID-19, in which the optimal interest cannot be achieved unless countries cooperate with one another. Nevertheless, these problems do not constitute substantial reasons for denying globalization. In fact, these antiglobalization discourses have to be made in a globalization context. Being reviewed from a relational perspective, they are a global phenomenon themselves. The advent and popularization of digital and information technology make it impossible for humankind to return to the world before Industrial Revolution and even Age of Exploration simply by virtue of policy changes. When mentioning the current China- US competition, Xiang Biao and Wu Qi (2020) have argued strongly that globalization will not be weakened. Instead, it will signify that attention should be paid to problems with a more sensitive globalization vision.
Finally, human’s ability to cope with pains in face of the lingering
pandemic should be taken into consideration. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, nearly 200 million people have been aﬀected worldwide. More than 4.2 million have died from the virus. During the outbreak in China, the special psychological hotlines received numerous calls every day. But these hotlines can only serve as a temporary comfort. After the pandemic, how to make people face up to the past irreparable pain and cure themselves psychologically is an unavoidable problem for the ethics of globalization in the post-pandemic world. Servigne and Stevens (2020) focused their discussion of the complex practicality and geography of what they called “collapsology” on the increasing instability of the globalization system and presented a critical description of the weaknesses of hyperglobalization. Zhao Tingyang (2020) also discussed how to face sufferings. To him, the modern system can produce material happiness, but cannot produce the happiness as the highest good, let alone resist sufferings. As sufferings fall beyond the ability of the subject, they become an absolute metaphysical problem. In the pre-modern society, peoples in the world primarily relied on religions to resist suﬀerings. In the modern society with booming technology and declining religious belief, how should people resist sufferings? The alternatives proposed by scholars in the past, such as “morality for religion” by Liang Shuming and “aesthetics for religion” by Cai Yuanpei, did not generate much effect. Some Western scholars tried to use nationalism to replace religion. For example, Benedict Anderson understood a nation as a “kinship” or “religion.” He believed that contribution to the nation could relieve the pain of life’s meaninglessness and sublimate personal life. However, as its subsequent development revealed, overly radical nationalism is not only unable to relieve pains, but brings more due to its antiglobalization moves. In the post-pandemic world, towards this common topic worldwide, it is particularly important to learn how to face up to sufferings and translate the resistance to and consolation for sufferings into the value doctrines of the ethics of globalization. Whether from the perspective of global inequality or the self-interests of individual nation- states, only by working out a “strong relationship” supported by the ethics of globalization and deepening national interaction, global cooperation, and value convergence, can nations and states make existence and development possible and enhance the overall and long-term interests of the whole human community.
4 Re-understanding the Relational Ethics in the
Process of Globalization
From the viewpoint of “long globalization,” each vibrant civilization has its particular process of “globalization” that is closely related to the consciousness, concept, and value of the outside world as the “other.” These numerous processes eventually combine into humankind’s “globalization” as a whole and become a magniﬁcent historical process aﬀecting every corner of the earth. As a relational ﬁeld encompassing the world, “long globalization” cannot be an erasable segment of history. China has always been a witness, a participant, and a driver for the long globalization. The evolution of China’s world outlook can be seen as an epitome of the relational ethics of globalization. Therefore, when trying to find the essence of humankind’s relationship on the historical, realistic, and methodological dimensions, it will be easier and better to understand how globalization in the post- pandemic world will strengthen—rather than weaken—the relational ethics of humankind.
4.1 Relational Ethics on the Historical Dimension
The ethical insistence on globalization has to be understood in the historical context. China’s global consciousness today results from the long evolution of the Chinese people’s world outlook, which is a process of development itself. As a “central kingdom” integrating multiple cultures, China had a sort of “cosmopolitanism” that highly valued foreign relations at the very beginning when it started interacting with neighboring areas. Chinese people’s understanding of the external world can be divided into four stages.
In the ﬁrst stage, “all under the heaven” (tianxia 天下 ) was equated to the “world.” At that time, the Chinese believed that their country was at the center of the world (Xu 2009). The “nine prefectures” paciﬁed by the legendary hero Great Yu and the “red territory and divine land” (chixian shenzhou 赤县神州 ) speculated by Zou Yan both imply the understanding of the relationship between the “central” country and the world. In that imagination, China and the rest of the world made up a concentric circle, with the Chinese civilization at the center, spreading to the rest of the world through ediﬁcation. This world outlook guided the Chinese attitude towards the difference between itself and “barbarians” and the potential existence of civilizations farther beyond, as represented by the famous “Debate on the Diﬀerence between Hua-Yi” in the Spring and Autumn period. Although the “China-center” world outlook contained a kind of universalist ideas of “All men within the four seas are brothers” (Analects 12.5), more important is that a cosmopolitanism of “All lands in the world belong to the King, all humans in the world are the King’s people” was formed at the political level.
The First Opium War reminded the Chinese of the “powerful existence” of the external world, marking the beginning of the second stage. They came to realize that their country coexisted with the “world” (primarily to its west and east) and this “world” not only coexisted with but also opposed to China. The sudden ideological shock greatly undermined the Chinese people’s cognition of the cosmopolitanism deep in their minds, and this change was also accompanied by internal tearing between tradition and modernity. The ideas of “Chinese learning as the essence and Western learning for its utility,” and “learning from foreigners so as to confront foreigners” were the external indication of this tearing.
The third stage began around the 20th century. After the First Sino- Japanese War and Eight-Nation Alliance invasion, China was no longer the center of the world or even a country equally coexistent with the western and eastern powers, in fact it was close on the verge of being marginalized and even subjugated. During that period, “saving the nation from subjugation and ensuring its survival” represented the core appeal of the Chinese people. Various movements, revolutions, and wars that followed, in a way, could all ﬁnd a footnote from this appeal.
In the late 1970s, as reform and opening-up became a national policy, China started to be integrated into the world economic chain. The change in policy marked the change of Chinese people’s world outlook, leading to the change of China’s international status and a new level of “global consciousness.” After the admission into the WTO in the early 2000s, China quickly grew into the second largest economy in the world by virtue of globalization, making the entry of the Chinese people’s world outlook into the fourth stage: The world is becoming an increasingly integrated whole in
which China occupies an important position and plays a unique part. In this period, China not only seeks to integrate into the world relational chain, but also strives to expand its connection with other countries on new dimensions, using that as the channel and means to deepen globalization. This role and positioning signature the increasing popularity of relational ethics. It also constitutes the starting point for the Chinese understanding of globalization ethics in the post-pandemic world, because the pandemic does not change the rational logic of historical development, it simply makes it more complex and emotional. Therefore, instead of trying to avoid emotional populism, what Chinese should do is to channel away the sense of crisis caused by the pandemic, contain egocentrism and the self-expanding dogmatism, and push the relational ethics of globalization up into a new stage.
4.2 Relational Ethics on the Realistic Dimension
The world today has already stepped across the pure trade competition in the early years into a “new globalization era” where various ﬁelds intersect both in the horizontal and longitudinal directions. Singer once described how terrorism contributed to the formation of a world beyond sovereignty states by weakening national sovereignty in the case of the “9/11” attack: “It seems that world leaders now accept that every nation has an obligation to every other nation of the world to suppress activities within its borders that might lead to terrorist attacks that are to be carried out in other countries, and that it is reasonable to go war with a nation that does not do so... That, as much as anything, tells us how far we still are from having an ethic that is based not on national boundaries, but on the idea of the one world” (Singer 2017, 8). The post-pandemic cannot deny the connection between countries, but can add new variables. Although COVID-19 is still a threat to humankind with great uncertainties, new countermeasures will undoubtedly limit uncertainties. Therefore, it is safe to say that we are moving into an integrated world where vaccination and detection enable people to travel freely without social distancing. Globalization optimists even assume that globalization in the post-pandemic world will enter a new Golden Age. For example, Princeton University Professor Harold James (2021) noted that historically, many crises have strengthened—rather than weakened—globalization. On this basis, the post-pandemic world will step into a “reglobalization.” In addition to COVID-19, climate change is another major challenge facing the world today. The solutions for these problems are the increasing of new global public goods (James 2021). These world products cannot be provided without more intensive and extensive international cooperation.
Globalization is still necessary in the post-pandemic world not only because the past universality problems have remained unresolved, but also because after the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be a greater need to share the convenience and outcome brought along by globalization. Jameson (2018) construed globalization as a communication terminal that alternately overshadows and disseminates the cultural or economic significance. The implication of today’s communication is thought of as a renewal or iteration of new technologies far beyond the “Enlightenment” from which the majority of the people living in today’s world are benefiting. When discussing the new world order in the post-pandemic era, Zheng Yongnian (2021) believes that “limited globalization” will replace the previous “hyperglobalization”; the supply and industry chains of individual economies will gradually return to their own countries; industry relevance is dependent on the situation. In the meantime, he thought it unfeasible to develop in isolation: “In the post-pandemic world, it is still important for countries to work together against crisis and avoid fighting their own battles because, after decades of hyperglobalization, no country can remain unaffected on any major issue” (Zheng 2021, 11). Be it “hyperglobalization” or “limited globalization,” or the so-called “post-globalization,” the core is that the world still needs cooperation among diﬀerent countries. Accordingly, the integration in cultural value is indispensable and “common values of humanity” such as “peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom” must be adopted (Xi 2021a). In this sense, to solve the internal and external problems of globalization, the ethical value issues associated with globalization are unavoidable topics. Regarding the inequality in COVID-19, for example, although the idea of equality is mostly manifested as the equality of distribution, it is, after all, a moral ideal, a social ideal, and a political ideal. Both luck-based egalitarianism and exclusive egalitarianism have deviated from the equality denoting these ideals. Only justice-based global egalitarianism can realize the ideal of equality in its true sense (Yu 2018).
In the post-pandemic world, international cooperation and competition will not only continue to exist, but are also likely to become more urgent. With the rise of China and other emerging countries and the weakening of the American influence, many American scholars have shown concerns about the power decline and the future world order. In his Maxwell’s Demon and the Golden Apple: Global Discord in the New Millennium, Schweller (2014) used “entropy increase” in thermodynamics to imply the disorder of international politics since the new millennium. Entropy can be seen as a measure of cosmic disorder. The higher the entropy, the worse the disorder. Although Schweller talked about the China-US contest in an optimistic tone, saying that China and the United States will maintain a “competitive coexistence” in future in a diversiﬁed, multi-center system, he still expressed his concern over the declining justification of the United States’ global governance and order maintenance. When the English version of the book was completed in 2014, the author predicted that “The key to finding a remedy for increasing entropy in international politics… The only solution is an enormous shock to the system, a calamity of huge pro-portions that cracks through the closed system’s outer crust and injects the world with new, useful energy to do work again” (Schweller 2014, 140). To Schweller, this impact could be a terrible natural disaster, a hegemonic war, or a global pandemic. Dramatically, this global disaster did have occurred when the Chinese version of the book was published in 2021. Like it or not, the world has to live in the aftermath of this pandemic. How to actively develop international relations in the new environment instead of passively receiving the relational changes, and how to understand and create new world relations from the perspective of ethics are well worth discussing on the methodological dimension.
4.3 Relational Ethics on the Methodological Dimension
The transition from moral conflict to ethical integration is an evolution from cultural diversity towards the human community with a shared future. It is a necessary step and the most fundamental cultural strategy for ethics and morality today (Yao 2020a). China, like many other countries in the world, is a beneficiary of globalization. To continue to drive globalization in the post-pandemic world, it is signiﬁcant to not only recognize the importance of relational ethics in history and reality, but also create a new discourse system on the methodological dimension and deepen the consciousness of the human community with a shared future.
Anti-globalization is primarily based on extreme nationalism and narrow cultural conservatism. Nationalism, a concept of modern times, rose to popularity because of a variety of reasons, including political, economic, and geographic factors. In his Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Anderson (2016) tried to prove that nations are built up of collective identity. In arguing that “the nation is an imagined political community,” he considered nation, national attribute, and nationalism as a “special cultural artifact.” These “artifacts,” created in the 18th century with their significance deepened over the long historical period, has been emotionally justified worldwide today. However, denying globalism with nationalism is not ethically justiﬁed. Given that nationalism is a cultural artifact from a special period, it cannot be ethically supported in the post-pandemic globalization era unless it works