Global citizenship – inevitable!

Being a national citizen is, therefore, similar to being a global citizen in that both have shared characteristics.

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Published in Asia News Today & Astro Awani, image by Astro Awani.

In a world where globalisation is here to stay – because countries and societies or otherwise human civilisation itself – are dependent on the process of the uninhibited diffusion, migration and movement of people, ideas and knowledge and not the other way round as in the past, one cannot simply dismiss the concept and notion of global citizenship as trivial or even dangerous (without further qualification or explication, that is).

Global citizenship and, by extension, global citizenry (or community) simply means that an individual’s identity is not confined to or constrained by the national boundary but organically and naturally spills over and extends to the wider, i.e., international, community.

After all, to be a citizen of a country is merely the “form” of being a human.

At the core of being a human, i.e., in reference to the “substance”, is the very idea of citizenship itself – which binds one human to another. That being the case, the substance of national and global citizenship is identical, synonymous or the same.

And furthermore, being a national citizen is, therefore, similar to being a global citizen in that both have shared characteristics.

Just as being a citizen of a country carries with its duties and rights and privileges, likewise, to be part of this ecosystem we call (Mother) “Earth” means we too have and owe certain obligations towards this world.

We may not be under a “one-world-government” which is entirely unnecessary and to be resisted whenever the idea crops up.

Nonetheless, we owe it to humanity that we care for Mother Nature and the environment or “biosphere” (i.e., understood as encompassing the entirety of Earth – to the extent where life on Earth exists).

It is simply the recognition that despite national boundaries and the attendant “boundary-markers”, ultimately, there is only one human race and one human civilisation with a home that is common to all.

Therefore, to recognise oneself as a global citizen is to recognise the common challenges confronting Earth and humanity – across the whole spectrum of policy issues – from climate change to poverty, from provision of clean water to access to equitable healthcare treatment, from the right to decent employment and working conditions to adequate shelter, etc.

And, of course, in a world that is also marked by bigotry and conflict, global citizenship could be used to highlight the affinity or commonality between citizens and nationals from different societies.

The concept of global citizenship strengthens universal interdependence and interconnectivity through cooperation and collaboration on both the domestic as well as external issues that confront humanity as a whole.

The European Union (EU) can be used as an example par excellence of what global citizenship and citizenry means – since what applies there can just as well apply to the world.

Fresh from the ashes of the Second World War, Western Europe which was not under Soviet (Communist) occupation and sphere of influence were concerned about preventing another major conflict from erupting on the continent’s soil.

To that end, the vision and worldview of the founding thinkers were realised when the nucleus member states got together to give up a part of their national sovereignty and pool resources for the common good.

Step-by-step, more and more of national sovereignty was handed over to a higher authority and pooled (e.g., giving up control of borders, customs, fisheries, agriculture), which eventually resulted in the Treaty of Maastricht (1993) that established the EU in its current form, including the eurozone (i.e., monetary and currency union). What was missing was, of course, the fiscal and banking union.

National citizens were encouraged to think of themselves as citizens of the EU or “European” (which of course is already a given in terms of both geography and racial grouping).

Although proponents/advocates of the EU may have differing visions with the main interpretations either veering towards a United States of Europe (fully-fledged federalism and central government) or a “two-speed” (or even “multi-tier”) “union” (i.e., in terms of integration and assimilation in the context of inter-governmental framework), both acknowledged that the people are more than just their national identity.

This is not to say that global citizenship does not have limits, especially if one is concerned about its drawbacks.

Using the EU as an eminent example again, we can see that if the concept is taken to its extreme version, then the free flow of people, goods, services and money as a fundamental premise could then result in imbalanced economic structures.

Initially, the UK’s accession to the then European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973 laid the groundwork for the hollowing out and decimation of British manufacturing especially in the Midlands and the North.

Under the freedom of movement of goods, the EEC eventually was to turn the UK into a major importer (deficit) of the Single Market, particularly German exports (surplus) simply because the former couldn’t compete with the latter on equal grounds despite expectations.

At the same time, this was accompanied by the costs mark-up rivalry (i.e., between the trade union in the form of wages and employers in the form of prices) that marked the period of the energy crisis and stagflation of the mid-1970s.

And then there was the subsequent imposition of austerity (spending cuts) by Labour Chancellor Denis Healey – contrary to Tony Benn’s recommendation for a concerted national industrial strategy and policy.

Austerity in 1976 was preceded by a loose monetary policy introduced in 1971 which failed to stimulate economic growth against the backdrop of cost-push inflation. The rest was history – with the UK going to the IMF with a begging bowl by the end of the year.

The irony was that freedom of movement didn’t guarantee the UK’s economic survival and instead what was supposed to be in the common interest turned out differently.

To survive, the UK turned to positioning the City of London to be a leading global financial centre which in turn worsened inter-regional disparity (i.e., between the North and South of England).

Notwithstanding, if understood in an apolitical/non-ideological other than the fundamental principles and in a more nuanced manner, global citizenship is a potent force to addressing and resolving the world’s problems – perennial and emerging.

There are various benefits in thinking and behaving as a global citizen.

For instance, individuals can improve their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. As global citizens, they prioritise global interests and put aside personal and national self-interests to ensure that our world is more peaceful and sustainable. Hence, thinking about comprehensive solutions to specific world problems will help global citizens develop their worldview, insights and foresight.

Besides, global citizens can improve their adaptability. When analysing and finding solutions to global problems, individuals learn how to quickly adjust to challenging situations and maintain a long-term predisposition. 

For example, when thinking about the problem of human trafficking and slave labour or haze, individuals who adopt a global citizen mindset will go beyond the conventional “formalities” of cross-border cooperation among law enforcement agencies and NGOs.

But they will also think about the underlying structural problems of poverty and hunger and deprivation that traps people in such situations, and then go about coming up with sustainable answers.

Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought a sense of urgency and immediacy for the world to act for the common good. Borders have to be reciprocally shut temporarily, vaccines should not be hoarded but equitably distributed with particularly reference to the poorer parts of the world, and public financing should be readily available for countries that are vulnerable to economic shocks by global institutions, among others.

Implicit in all of this is the world’s population as global citizens.

Global citizenship and citizenry (as in forging and fostering an international community that is more resilient and cohesive in terms of facing common threats and challenges) is work in progress.

Overall, global citizenship is an inevitable concept whose time has not only arrived but part and parcel of globalisation as irresistible force.

Jason Loh Seong Wei and Tan Tze Yong are part of the research team of EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

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