By Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan
Chinese President Xi Jinping has come up with a new global security proposal questioning implicitly the logic of the Indo-Pacific strategy, as well as the Quad involving Australia, Japan, India, and the United States. Xi proposed a new “Global Security Initiative” at the Boao Forum for Asia’s annual conference in China on April 21, while calling out Cold War mentality, hegemonism, and power politics as issues that would “endanger world peace” and “exacerbate security challenges in the 21st century.”
According to Xi, the initiative is meant to “uphold the principle of indivisible security, build a balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture, and oppose the building of national security on the basis of insecurity in other countries.” Xi also emphasized the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations, as well as their right to choose their own development paths and social systems.
Following Xi’s speech, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, at a regular press briefing, sought to clarify what the new initiative means. He said that “with growing threats posed by unilateralism, hegemony and power politics, and increasing deficits in peace, security, trust and governance, mankind is facing more and more intractable problems and security threats.” A week later, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in a piece published in People’s Daily elaborated, saying that the initiative “contributes Chinese wisdom to make up for the human peace deficit and provides Chinese solution to cope with international security challenge.” Wang reportedly added that “China will never claim hegemony, seek expansion or spheres of influence, nor engage in an arms race.”
When asked about Xi’s speech, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said that China is maintaining the same line as Russia, “parrot[ing] some of what we have heard coming from the Kremlin,” including the concept of “indivisible security.” Commenting on Xi’s initiative, an Asian diplomat reportedly said that China tends to “come out with an excessively large framework that nobody objects to. The idea is that even if countries don’t agree wholeheartedly, at least they can’t fully oppose it. Then, bit by bit, they use the framework to chip away at the US.”
It is quite possible that the Global Security Initiative (GSI) will start to play a prominent role in Chinese public diplomacy and foreign policy posture, so it is worth taking seriously. A few initial comments can be made about Xi’s proposed GSI.
The first is the blatant hypocrisy. China is proposing principles that it has clearly already violated. For example, Xi’s statement begins by talking about sovereignty and territorial integrity, but China’s behavior in both the South China Sea and along the Sino-Indian border clearly violate the notions of sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors. Similarly, Xi’s statement talks about taking the legitimate security concerns of all countries seriously and not pursuing one’s own security at the cost of others, none of which can be seen in China’s own behavior. There are other similar contradictions between the principles stated in the GSI and China’s own behavior, but these two stand out as the most blatant. Of course, great powers being hypocritical in their public statements of policy is not new. The hypocrisy should nevertheless be noted.
The second comment worth making at this juncture is that despite talking about rejecting the Cold War mentality, the GSI is a clear attempt at promoting power politics in a manner beneficial to China. Many of the proposals in the GSI are a thinly veiled effort to compete with the United States and its partners and allies. When Xi says “say no to group politics and bloc confrontation” or criticizes “small circles,” there can be little doubt that he is targeting security partnerships that the United States is anchoring in the Indo-Pacific, such as those that include India, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and others. Not only are these proposals driven by China’s effort to compete with the United States, but they are yet again hypocritical considering that China itself has had close alignments with states, such as the Soviet Union in the past, and continues to have long-lasting security partnerships with both Pakistan and North Korea. And, of course, Putin and Xi signed earlier this year what can easily be characterized as a new security partnership.
Similarly, the essence of many of the proposals in the GSI comes down to the presumption that Asian affairs should be managed by Asian countries, which conveniently gives China a domineering position because of its size and power, and equally conveniently seeks to push the United States out of the Indo-Pacific. This is a blatant effort at the pursuit of an Asian hegemony by China and one that is designed to promote China’s interests in its great power competition with the United States.
Despite the hypocrisy and power politics at the foundation of the GSI, it is likely to garner significant support in some parts of the world, especially the Middle East, Africa, and other regions that are far from China. As the world becomes increasingly bipolar, we will see a repeat of some of the features of Cold War period, especially weaker states playing the two polar powers against each other. Although this will be difficult for countries that are proximate to China or the U.S., this will definitely be a rational strategy for others to adopt because they can derive benefit from both sides. Thus, while it is important to point out the hypocrisy in the GSI, it would be foolish to dismiss it or assume that it will not garner support from other countries.
This article originally appeared in The Diplomat.