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25th Sep 2022

Opinion

What is China up to with its new 'Global Security Initiative'?

  • What can be assumed is that GSI will be massively backed by Russia, which uses similar language and concepts to legitimise its expansionist policy (Photo: EUobserver)
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Comprehensive security — or even "securitisation" — in domestic and international relations has become a near-obsession in Chinese politics since Xi Jinping took power in 2012 and 2013.

Security, in the understanding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), is first and foremost ensuring the survival of its Leninist-Maoist power monopoly and socialism with Chinese characteristics.

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Other security dimensions are built around this core interest, like onion peels.

It is not by coincidence that Xi Jinping also presides over the Central National Security Commission (CNSC), a newly established body in 2013 to centralise control over the giant Chinese security apparatus.

As early as April 2014, at a CNSC session, Xi presented his concept of "big security" (dà ān quán / 大安全), in which domestic and international security had been defined as inseparably linked.

One was already wondering when a comprehensive concept for China's foreign relations and worldview under the auspices of security would be released.

This happened at the prestigious Boao Forum for Asia on 21 April 2022, when Xi Jinping announced his new "Global Security Initiative" (GSI).

This initiative must be seen as a Chinese answer, not only to the increasingly pressing challenges of current geopolitical conflicts but also to the aforementioned deep-rooted threat perception and worldview of the CCP.

At first glance, the terminology of his proposal is anything but revolutionary and have been well-known for years: building a global community with a shared future for mankind; using China's wisdom to resolve the peace deficit; and presenting China as a provider of solutions to tackle global security challenges.

The speech further emphasised universal security, and the importance of respecting and safeguarding each country's security and development model through dialogue and cooperation.

Xi's statement further denounces the so-called Cold War mentality, hegemonism, and power politics as dangers to world peace and the resolution of security challenges in the 21st century.

What role does the GSI play in the context of already existing global strategies of China, most prominently the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)?

How should Europe, Nato and the "extended" West react to this alternative model of an international order after having just released the EU Strategic Compass in March 2022 or the Nato Strategic Concept in June 2022?

As with the BRI, China's ambitions and clearly stated strategic objectives are no less than delegitimising and finally replacing what it views as the Western-dominated and unfair existing world order. It denounces the current global system as the main source of instability and insecurity, inadequately reflecting the legitimate interests of rising powers and the developing world.

For the moment, GSI remains a rather vague concept.

This policy approach "with Chinese characteristics" is well known from the BRI and is able to integrate existing projects but is also open to future ones, similar to BRI. Even if GSI is still a rather loose anchor concept, it can serve a wide range of Chinese foreign policy interests and presents China as a new provider of global security.

What will the neighbours say?

The biggest scepticism about GSI might be seen in the neighbouring countries of Southeast Asia.

Those nations will resist any further integration into the China-dominated sphere and seek instead an alternative security alliance, mostly backed by the US and Australia.

Taiwan is not explicitly mentioned within GSI. But the concept of "indivisible security" could serve as another argument to delegitimise the current position of the US and its allies, denouncing it as inciting further insecurity and going against China's legitimate interests.

In South Asia, India is the biggest strategic opponent of China's encircling strategy and is about to increase its ambitions within the Indo-Pacific through formats such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. For Central Asia, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is an established format but can be integrated as a major pillar of the new GSI.

Like the BRI, GSI might receive some positive responses from Africa and Latin America. But to become a real game changer and contributor to solving regional conflicts, China's engagement has to massively grow on the ground beyond the current level of engagement.

What can be assumed is that GSI will be massively backed by Russia, which uses similar language and concepts to legitimise its expansionist policy.

For the moment, China is the only global power which can at least claim to offer an alternative model of global order and security. But we should be aware of the emergence of potential (or pretentious) "security providers", at least on the regional level; i.e., in the Middle East or parts of Africa.

What options does the West have to counter this initiative?

The United States has started initiatives on their own, such as the Summit for Democracy. But they are still very much focused on hedging China's rise in the Western Pacific. The US lacks both the resources and the domestic support to re-build a grand design, a comprehensive new world order as they had done during and after the Second World.

The EU's Strategic Compass and Nato's Strategic Concept aim at strengthening first and foremost their military and civil capacities.

Neither Nato nor the EU claim to provide comprehensive global security, as "out of area" operations will remain limited. They follow rather selective partnerships with like-minded countries, based on shared values and to advance global commons, such as the fight against climate change. The EU still wants to strengthen existing multilateral institutions, rather than create new ones.

Countering the Chinese GSI does not require a framework as ambitious as GSI itself.

The EU should focus on addressing specific security and developing demands of its regional partners, i.e., in North Africa, South East Asia and Latin America.

By improving coordination of existing projects. Offering better ways for legal migration, deepening partnerships in energy transformation, and offering fair access to European markets are ways by which Europe can effectively contribute to their security concerns — without the notion of becoming another hegemonic power.

Author bio

Dr Peter Hefele is policy director of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, the think tank of the European People's Party.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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