The rise of China as a major power has engendered a new set of initiatives from Beijing that challenge the Western-led international order. The Global Security Initiative (GSI) is one such initiative, which has been met with mixed reactions from the West. It has renewed the discussion of whether it is going to collide with the Western ideas of security and preside over the existing system in the coming years.
Some experts view the GSI as a Chinese attempt to counter the US influence in the security domain, while others argue that it incorporates many globally established principles while keeping the United Nations (UN) system at its core. Regardless of the GSI’s intentions, it is essential for global leaders to move beyond geopolitical and zero-sum thinking in order to maintain peace and stability in the world, especially for developing countries.
What is Global Security Initiative (GSI)?
On 21 April 2022, President Xi Jinping unveiled the Global Security Initiative (GSI) during his virtual keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Annual Conference. At that time, President Xi provided very little information about the initiative. However, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang presented the Global Security Initiative Concept Paper at the Lanting Forum in Beijing on 21 February 2023. This marked the first official document related to the GSI which incorporates six principles, twenty priorities of cooperation, and five platforms and mechanisms of cooperation.
The GSI aims to enhance global peace and stability by fostering fairness and impartiality among nations, embodying the principles of equity and justice. It is envisioned as a global public good, serving the common interests of all nations. In an article published in the People’s Daily, Wang Yi expounded on the initiative, emphasizing its role in offering Chinese insights to address the global peace deficit and provide solutions to international security challenges.
The GSI Concept Paper begins by reaffirming the six fundamental commitments articulated by President Xi Jinping, which include:
- Stay committed to the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable security.
- Show respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations.
- Adhere to the purposes and principles outlined in the United Nations Charter.
- Give due consideration to the legitimate security concerns of all nations.
- Resolve conflicts between countries through peaceful dialogue and consultation.
- Safeguard security in both traditional and non-traditional spheres.
However, it is the next sections of the concept paper on “Priorities for Cooperation” and “Mechanisms of Cooperation”, which present a broad overview of the Chinese vision of a new international security architecture.
The GSI to China
The Global Security Initiative (GSI) has been strategically designed to provide a significant impetus to China’s aspirations for global leadership. It casts China as an honest broker ready to serve as a guarantor and provider of inclusive security worldwide. For instance, right after the announcement of the GSI Concept Paper, China released a 12-point “position paper” (also called “peace plan”) for a political settlement of the Russia-Ukraine war on its first anniversary, in line with the core ideas of the GSI.
Notably, the inauguration of the Preparatory Office of the International Organization for Mediation in Hong Kong solidifies China’s commitment to resolving international disputes through mediation, making it the world’s first intergovernmental legal organization dedicated to such efforts. These initiatives carried out within the framework of the GSI underscore China’s emergence as a guarantor of global peace.
China aims to enhance its effectiveness as a key player in international security affairs by expanding its presence and influence in various regions. For example, the reconciliation of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran was facilitated by China. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi noted that the dialogue between the two nations serves as a successful implementation of the Global Security Initiative. Additionally, the GSI concept paper advocates for the establishment of a “new security framework” in the Middle East based on China’s five-point proposal. Likewise, China is actively promoting its new GSI as a means to strengthen ties with African nations. GSI is likely to result in greater Chinese military and security diplomacy across the developing world.
Furthermore, the GSI is believed to augment China’s “discourse power” in global affairs, recognizing the significance of narratives in shaping the international landscape. With the introduction of the GSI, China possesses a means to influence and reshape the narrative surrounding security. A notable illustration of this is China’s distinct definition of security, as exemplified by President Xi’s “comprehensive national security concept,” which encompasses sixteen distinct dimensions.
The GSI is accompanied by its counterpart, the Global Development Initiative (GDI), forming an interconnected framework rooted in Chinese Marxist ideology that emphasizes security serves as a prerequisite for development, while development ensures security. Together, these twin initiatives represent China’s comprehensive “blueprint” for reshaping the global order. In addition, in March 2023, China introduced the Global Civilization Initiative (GCI), which advances a state-centric and state-defined values system aligned with the principles embedded within the GSI. All these combined, China is offering an alternative system to the world away from the existing system dominated by Western norms and ideas.
The GSI and Its Collision with the West
China’s Global Security Initiative (GSI) has been interpreted by many Western experts and politicians as a challenge to the Western-led global governance system. The GSI is seen as an attempt by China to delegitimize the United States’ role in Asia and promote an exclusivist approach to Asian security governance. Rick Waters, an official from the US State Department, has warned that the United States must safeguard the rules-based international order against China’s efforts to “reshape it in its own interests.”
During President Xi’s speech in 2022, when unveiling the GSI, he placed significant emphasis on promoting “Asian cooperation,” “Asian unity,” and referred to the region as an “Asian family.” This emphasis indicates that China’s strategic focus remains primarily directed towards Asia, where it is engaged in a competition for supremacy with the United States. Notably, many of the proposals outlined in the GSI revolve around the notion that Asian affairs should be primarily managed by Asian nations. This conveniently positions China in a dominant role due to its size and power, while simultaneously seeking to diminish the influence of the United States in the Indo-Pacific region.
The GSI draws heavily from China’s New Asian Security Concept, which emphasizes common, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable security. The GSI introduces a new element to that by emphasizing the importance of addressing the legitimate security concerns of all nations. This element is inspired by the concept of “indivisible security,” which was first used in the Cold War-era Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris for New Europe. It means that “security is indivisible and the security of every state is inseparably linked to that of all the others.” Some Western analysts believe that China could use the concept of “indivisible security” as a rhetorical tool or normative device to further its longstanding geopolitical objective of dismantling the US alliance system and security partnerships in the region. They also argue that China could use this concept to claim moral superiority should it perceive actions by the United States and its allies, concerning Taiwan or the South China Sea, as disregarding its security concerns.
The GSI is also seen as a component of China’s broader endeavor to reform the global governance system. It serves as the overarching framework for various Chinese security initiatives at the United Nations (UN) and in different regions, which aim to challenge the Western-led global system and position China as a leader in global governance and security architecture. During his speech at the 2022 Boao Forum, Xi Jinping portrayed China as a responsible actor that upholds principles of multilateralism and international cooperation. In contrast, he criticized the United States and its allies for engaging in practices such as “exclusive, bloc politics,” “decoupling,” “supply chain disruption,” and “maximum pressure.”
The language employed in the GSI Concept Paper bears resemblances to the linguistic style utilized by the Communist Party of China (CPC) within the country. Notably, the opening statement of the Concept Paper highlights the presence of unprecedented risks and challenges faced by the international community, and the call to construct a “community with a shared future for mankind,” similar to what Xi Jinping has been saying for the past few years. This can be interpreted as an endeavor by China to familiarize and acclimate the global community to Chinese phraseology, while simultaneously promoting its distinctive vision of a global order.
Most importantly, The GSI is believed to symbolize a clash between democracy and authoritarianism, with China asserting that countries should have the freedom to choose their own social systems and development paths without interference. By saying that, China essentially advocates for the equal legitimacy of autocracies and totalitarian regimes alongside democratically accountable systems. This perspective is particularly significant in the context of China’s efforts to portray the United States, as the perceived leader of the democratic and liberal order, as the source of global instability. Consequently, China presents the GSI as a means to address the underlying causes of international conflicts and enhance global security governance. Therefore, many Western thinkers believe that the GSI represents the sum of the Chinese ideological preferences and zero-sum worldviews which collide with the West.
The GSI is a significant development in China’s foreign policy. Its wording is laudable and hard to disagree with, but from a geopolitical perspective, it collides with Western concepts and ideas. This could lead to increased tension and competition, which is not in the best interests of the international community. While competition between major powers is natural, it is crucial for world leaders to avoid succumbing to zero-sum thinking and instead adopt an objective and balanced approach. By doing so, they can mitigate the risk of confrontation and ensure that the GSI does not become a destabilizing force in the global security landscape. It is imperative to foster a cooperative environment that allows for healthy competition while prioritizing peace, stability, and the collective interests of all nations.