Hutong Cat | Finer details of China's 'global security initiative', anyone?
Lengthy on principles but short on actual details, five months after the initiative was proposed by Xi Jinping, experts are still combing their knowledge of China’s opaque politics to make sense of it.
Lengthy on principles but short on actual details is a consensus among many experts who have analysed China’s much talked about “global security initiative” (GSI).
Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed the initiative, which pivots around the principle of “indivisible security”, in April this year in a televised speech delivered to the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA), an annual dialogue that promotes regional economic integration.
“We 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”, one of the six primary aspects of GSI as defined by Xi.
The Chinese foreign ministry then elaborated.
“It contributes China’s wisdom to the efforts of mankind in tackling the peace deficit, and offers China’s solution to addressing international security challenges…This major initiative was proposed to meet the pressing need of the international community to maintain world peace and prevent conflicts and wars."
All very good but five months later, academics and experts are still combing their knowledge of China’s opaque politics and strategic thought to make sense of the initiative’s finer details.
It was the mention of “indivisible security” in Xi’ speech that caught the attention, a concept which has resurfaced in the Chinese narrative only recently.
“Indivisible security was first used prominently in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act designed to strengthen détente between the United States and its allies and the Soviet bloc, and in subsequent security agreements in Europe,” Carla Freeman and Alex Stephenson wrote in an analysis of the GSI for the United States Institute of Peace in August.
"It referred to the idea that the “security of states within regions is inseparable and that no country should pursue its own security at the expense of another,” they wrote.
Literally days ahead of invading Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin had brought up the same topic, indivisible security, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a phone call in early February.
Putin bitterly complained to Johnson about the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) “unwillingness” to address Moscow’s security concerns.
Putin said NATO was “hiding behind” its commitment to the “open door policy”, which contradicted the principle of “indivisible security”.
China picked up the thread quickly.
In recent Chinese narratives, China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi and Zhang Jun, China’s permanent representative to the UN, were among the first Chinese officials to use the phrase in March.
Yang made a mention of it while talking about the “Russia-Ukraine conflict” with US national security adviser Jack Sullivan in Rome that month.
Yang, as per Chinese official media, said: “We should take a long-term perspective, to actively promote common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable views of security based on the principle of indivisible security, to seek construction of balanced, effective and sustainable security mechanism.”
“Indivisible security principle established by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) OSCE should be put into practice,” Zhang said at the UN.
In a month’s time, when Xi spoke about GSI at BFA, the phrase was enshrined — even immortalised as it can only happen in Communist party’s China — as part of his great global vision for peace and stability, as China's official media would have us believe.
By June, Xi himself was back to promoting GSI – along with the other global framework, Global Development Initiative (GDI) – at the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) virtual summit in June. India and Brazil did not endorse it.
In his speech at the 14th BRICS summit, citing GSI, “indivisible security” and “partnership over alliance and “win-win over zero-sum”, Xi said: “China would like to work with BRICS partners to operationalise the GSI and bring more stability and positive energy to the world”.
There in comes in the shroud of the nebulous: Operationalise. Yes but what?
No one seems to know the contours of GSI’s operational details.
That hasn’t stopped China from launching a global campaign for GSI with diplomats and ambassadors reaching out to individual countries or top leaders speaking about it at multilateral forums.
Beijing is also unilaterally adding names of countries as supporters of the initiative.
A case in point was a statement issued by the Chinese foreign ministry after state councillor and foreign minister, Wang Yi met his Nepalese counterpart, Narayan Khadka in the coastal city of Qingdao in August.
The Chinese statement said: “Nepal endorses the visions of the Global Development Initiative and the GSI, and is trying to find a way to participate in and seek synergy with the two initiatives”.
Point to be noted here: The Nepalese statement did not mention either of the two initiatives.
Citing the sharp difference, The Kathmandu Post newspaper reported earlier in September that senior China officials, on at least three separate occasions, have “insisted” that Nepal support the GSI and GDI.
“But the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is yet to react to the Chinese claim, particularly on the GSI,” the report added.
Ambiguous as the GSI is as of now, China has managed to get it endorsed by a few countries.
The China-Kazakhstan and the China-Uzbekistan joint statements, issued after President Xi Jinping’s visit to the two countries earlier this month, both mention the GSI: In similarly worded references, both countries said they will work with China in implementing the mechanism.
In May, foreign ministers of Uruguay and Nicaragua also endorsed the mechanism, saying it aligns with their foreign policies.
In the backdrop of the Ukraine war, it’s quite apparent that the GSI is China’s latest diplomatic endeavour to push back against what Beijing sees as an US-led western security order, symbolised, for example, by the Quad comprising India, the US, Japan and Australia.
It’s part of Beijing’s efforts to exalt its own status as a world leader.
Neighbours, like India, for example, might want to know how the initiative helps in countering the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) aggression along the long and disputed Sino-India border. Self-governed Taiwan – which has lately seen a few Chinese missiles flying over it and PLA aircraft buzzing its borders -- might have a few queries too.
Or is China’s own “indivisible security” more important than that of others?
Great initiatives aside, China is certainly not short on showing aggression or issuing threats.
Sutirtho Patranobis, HT’s experienced China hand, writes a weekly column from Beijing, exclusively for HT Premium readers. He was previously posted in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he covered the final phase of the civil war and its aftermath, and was based in Delhi for several years before that