On February 20, Xinhua released a statement on “U.S. Hegemony and its Perils,” which claims to expose “U.S. abuse of hegemony in the political, military, economic, financial, technological and cultural fields” and bring “international attention to the perils of the U.S. practices to world peace and stability and the well-being of all peoples” (Xinhua, February 20). The polemic charges the U.S. with “clinging to the Cold War mentality,” intensifying “bloc politics” and “stoking conflict and confrontation.” A day after the PRC laid out its case against “U.S. hegemony,” the Foreign Ministry released a new concept paper on the Global Security Initiative (GSI) that seeks to frame China as a viable alternative to the U.S. as an international and regional security partner (FMPRC, February 21; FMPRC- English, February 21). On February 24, the PRC Foreign Ministry released a twelve-point proposal for a political settlement of the Russia-Ukraine War calling for a cessation of hostilities and peace talks (FMPRC, February 24). China’s recent diplomatic push to serve as an arbiter of the most intractable and destructive European conflict of the 21st century serves to further reinforce its promotion of itself, through the GSI and other efforts, as an honest broker in global security affairs.
The GSI Concept Paper opens with a reiteration of the six founding commitments stated by President Xi Jinping at the launch of the initiative at the Boao Forum last April, beginning with advancing his signature “common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security concept” (共同、综合、合作、可持续的安全观) (for a full list of the six commitments, see China Brief, May 13, 2022). However, it is the subsequent sections of the new concept paper on “Priorities for Cooperation” (重点合作方向) and “Mechanisms of Cooperation” (合作平台和机制), which offer a broad outline for how China envisions an alternative, post-American international security architecture. The GSI concept paper’s Priorities for Cooperation section details how the PRC would address transnational security challenges and achieve stability in different regions, including “hotspots” where geopolitical or sectarian strife is endemic, including Ukraine, the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula (FMPRC, February 21). The final Mechanisms of Cooperation section suggests the initiative will draw heavily on the existing network of Sinocentric multilateral organizations that China has built up over the past two decades. Beijing also seeks to capitalize on its clout at the UN by sustaining the global body as the “core” of the international system and upholding its authority as “the main platform for global security governance” (FMPRC, February 21). Of course, the GSI concept paper never addresses the contradiction between upholding UN-centrality and advancing a parallel international institution with an overlapping remit.
Global Problems, Chinese Solutions
The new GSI concept paper was first introduced by Foreign Minister Qin Gang in his keynote remarks to the Foreign Ministry’s Lanting Forum (蓝厅论坛) on “The Global Security Initiative: China’s Proposal for Solving Security Challenges” (FMPRC, February 21). In his remarks, Qin cited the Soviet-era concept of “indivisible security,” which has been inherited by Putin’s Russia and the PRC. Indivisible security nominally asserts that the security of each state is interlinked with that of the broader regional and international environment, but is typically invoked by the authoritarian great powers to justify their dogged protection of “core interests.” Qin also asserted that GSI “embodies the core essence” of the “community of common destiny,” which is the organizing principle of the PRC’s global economic and development strategic frameworks, the Global Development Initiative and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) (People’s Daily, February 22; FMPRC, September 21, 2022). Like those initiatives, the GSI can be seen as providing a broad umbrella framework for existing Chinese policy efforts, in this case in the defense and security realm.
The twenty priorities for international security cooperation in the new GSI concept paper can be broadly divided into international and regional challenges. Key examples from the twenty priority areas enumerated in the concept paper are listed below. However, the concept paper stipulates that its list is not exhaustive, which suggests that the number of issues that GSI seeks to address is likely to expand:
- Promote stability in “major country” politics: The GSI will seek to “promote coordination and sound interaction among major countries” forging relationships based on “peaceful coexistence, comprehensive stability and balanced development.” The language in this section is almost assuredly largely written with the U.S. in mind, but also likely applies to Russia, Europe, India and perhaps others.
- Support non-proliferation regimes and prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction: The PRC calls for avoiding nuclear war and arms races; prohibiting biological and chemical weapons under the relevant conventions, but neither nuclear nor missile technology arms control is discussed.
- Promote international maritime peace and security and maritime differences: The GSI outline calls for enhanced cooperation on shared maritime security challenges, including piracy. The intention to resolve maritime differences is raised, but China’s disputes with neighbors in the East and South China Seas are unacknowledged.
- Safeguard global food and energy security: The GSI will also extend to ensuring efficient global agricultural and energy supply lines. This includes avoiding “politicizing and weaponizing food security issues.” Enhancing energy and food security have been major policy areas of emphasis for Beijing since the Russia-Ukraine War erupted last year, roiling global food and energy markets (China Brief, June 17, 2022).
- Collectively manage the dangers posed by AI and other emerging technologies: The outline cites a particular concern with autonomous military applications of these technologies.
- Promote political settlements of regional hotspot issues: The concept paper casts China as a sort of honest broker that is ready to serve as both a guarantor and provider of inclusive security in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Island Countries.
- Africa: The concept paper calls for supporting African states’ efforts to resolve regional conflicts and combat transnational threats such as terrorism and piracy. With regards to the strategically important Horn of Africa, which not only abuts key global sea lines, but is also where the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has a significant peacekeeping presence and its only permanent military facility on the continent in Djibouti, the concept paper cites the importance of the China-Horn of Africa Peace, Governance and Development Conference. This regional forum, which met for the first time last summer, convenes senior Chinese and African leaders from Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan and South Sudan (Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, July 23, 2022; FMPRC, July 22, 2022).
- Latin America and the Caribbean: The GSI seeks to support regional peace and stability including through efforts to realize the commitments embodied in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States’ (CELAC) “Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace.” [This is and the omission of any reference to the Organization of American States suggest reducing U.S. influence in Latin America and the Caribbean is an implicit GSI priority].
Leveraging Existing Organizations
The final section of the GSI concept paper includes a list of “platforms and mechanisms of cooperation.” In addition to the UN Security Council, which Beijing holds a permanent seat on, the UN General Assembly and relevant committees, the concept paper calls for utilizing several existing organizations in which China plays leading roles in order to implement GSI: the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), BRICS and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, the “China+Central Asia” mechanism. The paper also lists supporting an “ASEAN-centered regional security cooperation mechanism and architecture” as a priority, which suggests Beijing will seek to use the ASEAN-China and ASEAN-plus dialogues to socialize the GSI with Southeast Asian states. How successful this approach will be is questionable, as Southeast Asian countries have generally responded coolly to GSI (ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute, February).
The GSI concept paper section on mechanisms also lists several global and regional security forums, which the PRC has established to facilitate exchanges with foreign states and promote Chinese “discourse power” on international defense and security issues. The organizations mentioned, which indicates they may have some role in socializing the GSI to foreign elites, include (organizer in parentheses):
- China-Africa Peace and Security Forum (Ministry of National Defense [MOD]): Ministerial Dialogue Between China’s Defense Minister and about 50 African defense ministers or other senior officials (China Brief, July 29, 2022; MOD, July 26, 2022).
- Middle East Security Forum (China Institute of International Studies/ Ministry of Foreign Affairs): convenes senior-level diplomats to discuss new approaches to security in the region; the theme of the most recent iteration was developing a “new security architecture” in the Middle East (CGTN, September 22, 2022).
- The Xiangshan Forum (MOD): A track 1.5 dialogue including defense officials and senior military officers often described as China’s antidote to the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore (China Brief, November 19, 2019).
- The Global Public Security Cooperation Forum (Lianyungang) (Ministry of Public Security; State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission [SASAC]) Assembles senior public security officials from over 30 countries to coordinate and share information on law enforcement issues, as well as undertake joint training and exercises (Lianyungang Forum, December 16, 2020). The initiative originally focused on countering crime along the BRI, but has expanded to include policing cooperation on a host of other areas including transnational organized crime and cyber security.
- A Future GSI Forum?: The concept paper says that China will “hold high-level conferences on the GSI in due course to strengthen policy communication in the field of security, promote intergovernmental dialogue and cooperation, and further foster synergy” in global security cooperation. This suggests that just as China held two BRI Forums, a GSI forum may be a possibility in the future.
As part of the publicity blitz surrounding the release of the GSI Concept Paper, the state-run Global Times published an English-language editorial entitled “All countries are welcomed to join Global Security Initiative” (Global Times, February 21). Infused with the typical hyperbole that characterizes such propaganda messaging, the article claims that by further enriching GSI, “the concept paper meets the universal expectations of the international community, helps the international community to fully understand China’s principles and concepts on global security issues” and provides a road map for relevant parties to deal with security disputes and address security dilemmas.” Moreover, the Global Times maintains that any country that checks its “bias, prejudice, or narrow-minded personal interests” is able to “feel China’s sincere attitude toward peace and the enormous value of Eastern wisdom in solving today’s problems in the concept paper.”
In discounting CCP propaganda assertions about the GSI, Western policymakers should be careful to avoid the reverse fallacy, which would be to assume that China’s efforts to sell the GSI to an international audience are destined to fail. While Western democracies are unlikely to enlist in GSI, a host of regional and middle powers and smaller states across the Global South, could sign up. Leading candidates include authoritarian or semi-authoritarian states in Africa, Asia and Latin America that may feel compelled to choose sides as they increasingly see Washington and Beijing drawing battle lines in an emerging global struggle between democracies and autocracies.
John S. Van Oudenaren is Editor-in-Chief of China Brief. For any comments, queries, or submissions, please reach out to him at: email@example.com.