China continues to engage on issues of global governance facing the growing challenges in changing global orders, showing its willingness not only to respect international rules and standards, but also called upon others to follow suit. Part of China’s active involvement in global affairs relates to China’s economic achievements over the last few decades of the 20th century and the first two decades of the 21st, signaling its potential to contribute in the efficacy of existing institutions and norms.
China’s growing influence and strong partnership with the developing world and its model of growth have invited interests from those in policy circles, security experts and development specialists. There are some who consider China’s success in its Belt and Road Initiative, the Global Security Initiative and others to be a challenge to the existing hegemon. Cooperative frameworks such as the China-Africa Cooperation Forum (FOCAC) are interpreted as a new model of south-south cooperation. China’s efforts towards global connectivity and its huge capacity to address challenges of poverty are challenging those that see Africa as a place for poverty and backwardness. If the Global Security Initiative succeeds, it might lead to a more multipolar world, one with possibly a fairer and more equitable international order.
China’s Global Security Initiative (GSI)
President Xi Jinping, in a speech at the 2022 Boao forum, proposed a Global Security Initiative (GSI), outlining the principle of indivisible security at its core. President Xi’s speech is considered monumental as it was the first time China hinted at the need for a different approach to global security. The principle stresses the importance of cooperation between states while emphasizing that insecurity in one state impacts the wellbeing of all others.
China’s global security initiative consists of six major components: First, stay committed to the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, and work together to maintain world peace and security; Second, stay committed to respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, uphold non-interference in internal affairs, and respect the independent choices of development paths and social systems made by people in different countries; Third, stay committed to abiding by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, reject the Cold War mentality, oppose unilateralism, and say no to group politics and bloc confrontation; Fourth, stay committed to taking the legitimate security concerns of all countries seriously, uphold the principle of indivisible security, build a balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture, and oppose the pursuit of one’s own security at the cost of others’ security; Fifth, stay committed to peacefully resolving differences and disputes between countries through dialogue and consultation, support all efforts conducive to the peaceful settlement of crises, reject double standards, and oppose the wanton use of unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction; and finally, stay committed to maintaining security in both traditional and non-traditional domains, and work together on regional disputes and global challenges such as terrorism, climate change, cyber security and biosecurity.
China’s security initiative is a reflection of its foreign policy that stresses the importance of respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries. Lack of commitment to these principles has caused regional and global security problems. The long-arm jurisdiction that big powers tend to extend in the internal matters of states needs to be restrained through institutional arrangements which support the exercise of proper multilateralism. Issues requiring the collective and coordinated efforts of all states shouldn’t be reigned over by few. In this regard, China’s GSI can be a good starting point that could possibly evolve into a reliable global security architecture that aims at meeting the goals of a stable and more secure world.
China’s global security initiative has a potential to address regional and global security concerns as it makes a case for a global security where the security of all countries should be of equal concern. The existing security architecture seem to be hijacked by “small circles” and “cliques” which prioritize the geopolitical and strategic interests of some while risking that of others. China has expressed that its initiative aims at expanding the platform for a genuine multilateralism. Broadly, the GSI emphasizes the need for a concerted effort to manage the security and other challenges of global essence. China’s security initiative could contribute to global peace in terms of its commitment to peaceful solutions to global security challenges and its moderation towards a militarized solutions to security challenges that we all faced.
Why the GSI?
The existing global security architecture has not succeeded to equally protect the security interests of all states as per the UN Charter, and developing a common and comprehensive security architecture that equally values the security interests of all states seems only natural. The GSI is thought to improve on the deficiencies in the existing global security architecture, i.e., the absence of equal respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi articulated, “At a time like the present, when the world is facing unparalleled risk of divisiveness, the initiative also answers to the common pursuit of multilateralism and global solidarity.” The Foreign Minister also indicated that at the moment, divisiveness is being fueled by some countries that cling to a Cold War attitude and are keen to engage in exclusive small circles. They are making false claims, practicing unilateralism in the name of multilateralism and hegemony in the name of democracy.
China’s former First Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng stated that the US has been “flexing its muscle[s]” in China’s periphery, creating partnerships demonstrably contrary to China and stoking Taiwan tensions to test China. He posed a question: “If this is not an Asia-Pacific version of NATO’s eastward expansion, then what is? Such a strategy, whenever left unrestrained, would bring dreadful outcomes and drive the Asia-Pacific over the edge of an abyss.” Along the same lines, remarks by Ambassador Zhang Jun at the UN Security Council briefing on Ukraine have attempted to show how regional security alliances are wrecking global peace.
What does China want globally?
China’s position on the question of “what does China want globally?” lays out that China is after a strengthened multilateral partnership over issues of global governance. China has identified two major pillars around which this partnership could be galvanized, i.e., global development and security. Global security and development challenges can be overcome with multilateral partnerships that respond to the economic, peace and security, and environmental challenges faced in different regions. China doesn’t follow the “one fits all” approach to global development and security challenges. Chinese officials reiterated that states should independently choose a model of development and security arrangements that suits their realities and global institutions should not be instrumentalized to punish ideological rivals. Overall, GSI responds to the urgent need of the international community to safeguard world peace and prevent conflicts and wars, to the common pursuit of multilateralism and international solidarity, and to the aspiration of people of all countries to work together to overcome difficulties and create a better post-pandemic world. It has contributed Chinese wisdom to making up for the deficit of peace and offered Chinese solutions to international security challenges.
Challenges to the GSI?
China has built tremendous economic, technological and military capacities in the past few decades, and the success of its global security initiative needs those capacities as well as the support of other countries. Maintaining security in the age of technology has become extremely complicated.
Scholarly debates regarding China’s GSI raise the concern that China’s ambition of restructuring the prevailing security arrangement may encounter challenges from big powers with security interests strongly attached to existing global institutions. The US and its allies in particular have invested a great deal in existing global security structures and believe that such institutions are probably serving their purposes.
For example, the GSI would ensure that Asian affairs are dealt with by Asian countries. However, the US’s decades-long security partnerships with powers in the region and recent tendencies towards consolidation of these partnerships may pose a challenge with regard to attracting countries of the region to get involved in the initiative. China is not contemplating creating a global governance system of its own. Beijing is engaging with major countries to help make the GSI truly global. India, Russia, and the continent of Africa will all have a significant role to play in making China’s GSI a reality. China’s latest initiative has the potential to succeed, but it still needs time to get operations in full swing. If China succeeds in convincing its neighbors and strategic partners—e.g. Japan, and India—to join its proposed initiative, new power alignments would emerge in the world.
The idea of crafting a security framework based on common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable global security is alluring. The challenge, however, lies in integrating earlier security arrangements into China’s proposed GSI. Africa’s involvement and connection to the GSI would definitely aim at linking the continent’s security initiatives, i.e., AU peace and security initiatives with the GSI.
Africa and China’s GSI
Africa has grave security challenges emanating from boundary disputes, conflicts over shared resources, terrorism—cyber and related threats—and extreme poverty. In terms of alleviating these challenges, the GSI could benefit Africa enormously. The traditional and non-traditional security threats that Africa faces could be reduced through robust and inclusive global and continental security infrastructure, which Africa has been unable to realize due to lack of proper resources—human capital, investment and technology. To keep up with worldwide security challenges, there is a need to have more advanced innovation with regard to obtaining data and neutralizing serious security threats. Most African nations lack sufficient capacity, technology or facilities in this regard. China’s strength in these areas might encourage African states to consider the initiative as an advantageous alternative. Of course, Africa’s security is a matter of mutual interest to both China and Africa, as the partnership between the two has grown rapidly.
The African Union doctrine of African solutions for African problems which is also associated with the institutional capacity of the AU and sovereignty aligns with one of the pillars of the GSI: indivisible security. Many African governments may see “indivisible security” as a concept that is aligned with their beliefs about international security. The African Union’s commitment and adherence to the notion of sovereignty of states has been reflected in the positions taken by African governments on issues of global governance.
Africa could benefit from the GSI. In its engagement with the GSI, African governments are expected to ensure fair representation and power for themselves. As part of its efforts to engage African states’ concerning issues of security over the continent and beyond, China has made some creative moves. The recent Horn of Africa Peace Conference held in Addis Ababa is aimed at promoting the collective peace and stability of the region which China believes demonstrates its view of regional and global security. Moreover, such sub-regional initiatives would be opportunities for both China and countries in the sub-region to explore common ideas on issues of global security as well as intricacies in engaging bilateral and wider security partnerships.
Many experts admit that China’s GSI has sound rationales. China is both regionally and globally an important player with significant economic, military and technological capacities. China has become a critical actor and should not be underestimated. China has crafted its own position to suit its realities. Contrary to the interpretation of some analysts which links the GSI with an aspiration to become a global hegemon, The majority has argued that China’s rationale for the GSI is reasonable; it should not be understood that China wants to jump in to fill a global power vacuum.
China’s detachment from the history of colonialism and its foreign policy principles of mutual respect and the peaceful rise of China could be stepping stones for the kinds of relationships that China aims to craft through the GSI. Its miraculous achievements in poverty reduction and its technological advancements will increase the trust and confidence of others that want to prosper and address the fundamental fault lines in their economies. China’s involvement in the development projects of the developing world and its contributions to job creation, productivity and economic growth have paved the way for China’s success in further engaging those countries. China’s success in forming mutually beneficial relationships with countries of the developing world has made China a reliable partner. It’s time to build a new international security framework and oppose together undermining the international order in the name of “rules” and dragging the world into a “new Cold War”. The GSI will bring new hope to realize this dream.
Abdeta Dribssa Beyene is Executive Director of Center for Research, Dialogue & Cooperation, Ethiopia