Winter, 1953. It is New Year’s Eve at West Flower Hall in Central Beijing, and Premier Zhou Enlai is working late, as he often does.
He sees a world divided. The greatest war in history has left Germany and Japan in ruins, and Europe exhausted. China suffered deeply in this war, and fought hard to win its independence.
Great challenges remain — Korea, Vietnam, India, the Middle East all face new conflicts. America and the Soviet Union are locked in a deadly struggle, armed with nuclear weapons. The nations of Africa, Asia and South America yearn for independence.
All around the world, the potential disaster of war casts a shadow on the people.
Zhou Enlai sits at his desk in the icy Beijing winter and asks — is there a better way? Are there any principles on which all nations can agree, as a foundation for lasting peace?
Zhou Enlai is a student of history; he has studied widely in Japan and Europe. He is also a student of Chinese tradition, heir to a family of scholars that goes back 1000 years. He uses this knowledge as he writes the Five Principles of Peace.
The Five Principles are based on ideas from the League of Nations, the Brand-Kellogg Treaty, and the United Nations. They also draw their depth and harmony from ancient Chinese understanding of the five elements.
The first principle: mutual respect for each nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Like the earth element, each nation’s land is fundamental. We all have the right to walk on this land, and seek our destiny in the land of our birth.
The second principle: mutual non-aggression. We should discuss, listen, negotiate and compromise, and not use force against each other. Like the metal element, we use the sharpness of the sword of intelligence and respect, which is far more powerful than the sword of steel.
The third principle: Mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. We respect each other’s unique traditions, culture and history, and our individual ways of solving our own challenges. Like the water element, we flow around the rocks of our differences.
The fourth principle: Equality and mutual benefit. The first three principles have developed a framework of respect and tolerance. Each nation is equal, regardless of size or wealth, and we help each other grow, with sustainable economic and social development. Like the wood element, which is useful to all, creating wealth and practical benefits.
The fifth principle: Peaceful co-existence. Now we can see the goal of peace, achieved by living in harmony alongside each other. The meaning of co-existence is that we recognize our differences, our diversity — and we celebrate them. Like the element of fire, the nations are forged together, with heat for security, and light for the mind.
The first practical application of the Five Principles was in a critical treaty between China and India in April, 1954. Their adoption helped to solve some difficult diplomatic issues.
Zhou Enlai then took the Five Principles to a historic conference in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955, where they were expanded and endorsed by more than 50 countries in the non-aligned movement.
The intelligence, energy and patient persuasion of Zhou Enlai made this possible. The Bandung nations were very different in many ways — Thailand and Indonesia, Turkey and India, Ghana and Egypt. They had many different policies, but they all agreed on Zhou Enlai’s Five Principles.
Premier Zhou Enlai spent many years persuading nations to accept the Five Principles. He travelled all over Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, and ultimately more than 100 nations joined the Non-Aligned Movement, representing 2/3 of humanity, with the Five Principles at their heart.
The Five Principles were part of the Geneva Conference, and they were re-affirmed in the Shanghai Communique, which brought the United States and China toward full diplomatic relations. They were endorsed by the United Nations, are part of the framework of the World Trade Organization, the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation, and many other international organizations.
In 2004 the Five Principles were thoroughly analyzed at a major Symposium in China.
In 2012, many of the Bandung nations reunited in Indonesia, to celebrate people’s diplomacy in light of the Five Principles.
The Five Principles of Peace is one of the most important documents in history, to advance the cause of human development.
Zhou Enlai himself said, “If these principles were applied not only between various countries but also in international relations generally, they would form a solid foundation for peace and security, and the fears and apprehensions that exist today would give place to a feeling of confidence…”
The work continues. Today, the issues that challenge the world faces are globalization, trade balance, currency and debt, the environment and resources, energy and international terrorism.
The Five Principles of Peace provide guidance for these issues today, as they did 60 years ago. China has taken its place among the leaders of world, and has assumed its responsibility to be a strong, patient advocate for peace.
With the vision of its first Premier and first Foreign Minister in mind, China will serve the whole world. By helping everyone to understand the effective simplicity of the Five Principles, and re-dedicating to their wisdom, the people of China will live their destiny, first seen far away on that bitter Beijing night in 1953 by Zhou Enlai — to be peacemakers for the world.