China’s Security Architecture Raises More Questions than Answers
Editor's note: In this piece, Eerishika Pankaj, the director of the Organisation for Research on China and Asia (ORCA), a New Delhi-based think-tank, raises concern over China's security architecture.
Building on the trend and goal of exporting the Chinese governance model, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s keynote address at the Boao Forum on April 21, 2022 announced the idea of creating a “indivisible security community” through the proposal of the Global Security Initiative (GSI).
In his speech, Xi spoke of building “a balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture”; six months later, the GSI still remains shrouded in secrecy, with few concrete details made public. Yet it has made its way into Chinese diplo-speak repeatedly since inception, hinting at the grander strategic intent behind the venture.
As Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s pledges to strengthen Japan’s naval and military capabilities, debate within the country on its pacifist constitution is taking on a critical hue. This is evident in Tokyo’s recent announcement of its unprecedented $320 billion military build-up that would equip it with missiles capable of striking China and prepare it for a protracted conflict. Concurrently, a key tenet of its updated national security strategy (NSS) —released on December 16, 2022—is the understanding that China is an “unprecedented and the greatest strategic challenge in ensuring the peace and security of Japan “. Based on these developments in Japan, the United States has bolstered its alliance with Tokyo, aiming to transform Japan into a potent military power to help counterbalance China.
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Amidst such recognition, China’s GSI spells trouble for Japan (and India). The initiative’s active implementation —possibly in the coming year—will attempt to create a China led security model and architecture, therein threatening the regional power identity of Japan in Asia and its sovereign interests in the maritime domain.
Xi’s ‘indivisible security’ focus AND Kishida
The GSI has not yet evolved into an implementable venture, but growing mention of the initiative in China shows that it is poised to soon be released. It remains to be seen whether the GSI would adhere to a Quad like model of dialogue engagement or be more framed as a security pact/alliance. Although the principle of “indivisible security” is not unique, the addition of “Chinese characteristics” to the concept makes it a distinct endeavor to place China front and center of setting the agenda of the Asian security narrative. The phrase essentially states that security is a collective concept and no state should make itself stronger at the expense of another.
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China has long criticized U.S.-friendly democracies in the Indo-Pacific for their “Cold War mentality” and “bloc confrontation” politics —most recently in expressing concerns over the West’s reactions to Ukraine. The GSI concept with the theme of indivisible security is an effort to oppose U.S. actions and derives from its growing concerns over an “Asian NATO“. Xi has stated he wants to project the idea of sustaining “true multilateralism” through the GSI, as opposed to the US’ ‘zero sum game’ and ‘bloc politics’; this sets the stage for GSI to be merged with China’s Himalayan Quad and existing alliances.
It can be expected that the GSI would court countries like North Korea and Russia to join the Initiative which plans to look at “traditional and non-traditional security threats” as well as “frontiers such as the deep sea, polar regions, outer space and the Internet”.
Kishida, who has helmed Japan’s hardline response to Russia in support of Ukraine, must view the concept keeping its strategic usages in mind. Japan’s seikei bunri has been stretched to its limits, having had to maneuver economic ties with China around its incursion activities. A Chinese foreign power push via the GSI focusing on building new security architectures will only further threaten Japanese national interests and regional power balance as it emerges as a dedicated Chinese counter to growing democratic countries-led minilateral security arrangements such as Quad, AUKUS and trilaterals like Japan-America-India (JAI).
Xi’s GSI vision has been reaffirmed by Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe, former Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng and at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) by State Councilor WangYi. As per Yi, via GSI Xi has contributed to “China’s vision to reducing the peace deficit facing humanity and provided China’s input to meeting global security challenges”. Furthermore, mention of GSI in the UNGA indicates that while presently there is little information about what the GSI will grow into, the Chinese leadership has major plans for its implementation in the long run. This was further proven when Xi spoke of GSI at the 20th National Party Congress (NPC) of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
Concern for Japan
Tokyo recognizes that despite touting “true multilateralism”, China has unequivocally pursued unilateral “development activities of natural resources in the East China Sea”. Chinese actions in the two China Seas and the Himalayas have been contradictory to Beijing’s claims of opposing the “building of national security on the basis of insecurity in other countries”; the “wanton use of unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction” and upholding “the international order underpinned by international law”.
Legitimization of expansionist policy in the form of implementable initiatives precedes assertive actions by Beijing in sensitive domains. Under the claim of “indivisible security”, China can continue to legitimize its actions in areas of geostrategic importance to Japan, such as the East China Sea islands and in the Taiwan Strait. Hence, under the banner of indivisible security, the GSI can be further used as a nationally approved method (much like China’s Land Border Law (LBL) and Coast Guard Law (CGL)) of flouting international rules based norms.
Furthermore, linking of the GSI and the Global Development Initiative with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is also a likely future scenario. In another GSI-driven speech, WangYi in September 2022 spoke at the SCO’s Samarkand Summit and highlighted how Xi Jinping via the initiative has stressed on “continued efforts to achieve the complementarity of the Belt and Road Initiative with national development strategies and regional cooperation initiatives” expanding “sub-multilateral cooperation and sub-regional cooperation” and creating “more growth drivers in cooperation”.
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The GSI will continue to attain more importance in Chinese diplomacy and foreign policy moving forward. Domestically, the GSI holds significant potential in advancing Xi’s “strongman polity” image since it posits China as a leader in building a new global security architecture by offering Chinese solutions to international security challenges and eliminating “the peace deficit”.
The ambiguous nature of the GSI’s framework presently only further reflects on China’s diplomatic outlook and preferences when it comes to dealing with strategic partnerships. For instance, China could leverage its partnerships in multilateral organizations like the SCO, BRICS, Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and China-Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) by promising the creation of a uniform multilateral security structure via GSI. The action of Chinese ambassadors to Somalia and Seychelles speaking about GSI is telling of the regional focus the initiative is being tailored for.
No official statement has been made by Japan yet on the GSI. Nonetheless, even as Kishida’s political capital becomes weaker, growing seriousness should continue being ascribed to addressing challenges such as this. Japan, as a trusted regional power and aid provider, must build consensus prior to the active implementation of the GSI to deftly counter and contain the initiative’s success.