At the annual Boao Forum, held in April 2022, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a speech via video link proposing a “Global Security Initiative” (GSI) based on the principle of “indivisible security”. The speech was notable because it is the first time that China has hinted at its desire to adopt a new approach to global security “with Chinese characteristics”. But Xi’s description of the GSI was sorely lacking in detail. So will he actually succeed?
A troubled and divided world
There are solid reasons why Beijing has chosen this moment to propose the GSI and its principles. The world is currently facing a multi-dimensional crisis: economies were still grappling with the health and fiscal effects of the COVID-19 pandemic when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drove up commodity prices, sparking fears concerning energy security and food security in the world. Ukraine has joined Yemen, Afghanistan and northern Ethiopia as places where war has triggered humanitarian crises, even as UNICEF has sounded the alarm over climate-induced emergencies in the Horn of Africa.
Although there is no shortage of diplomatic speeches by world leaders calling for cooperation to resolve these issues, the fact remains that the pursuit of geopolitical and security interests not only stifles international cooperation, but can itself even directly cause wars and other crises.
This is where the principle of “indivisible security” comes in. First stated in the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, in which the participating countries of the Euro-Atlantic bloc indicated their will to maintain peace, the principle has been included in numerous national strategic documents and is based on the idea that no country can strengthen its security at the expense of others. The principle emphasizes the benefit of state cooperation while emphasizing the converse – that insecurity in one state affects the well-being of all others. For economist readers, it frames national security as non-exclusive, non-rival overall good audience.
The 2010 OSCE document on indivisible security further clarifies that the principle involves more than simply defining parameters for contact between antagonistic blocs. At the same time, the document agreed that states have an equal right to security, including the inherent right to freely choose or modify security agreements or treaties.
The principle of indivisible security is also popular in the Kremlin. For example, Russia sees disregard for the principle of indivisible security as one of the root causes of the war in Ukraine, and its adherence is part of the solution.
So why does China like this principle?
The GSI in China
Like any other state, China pursues its national interests, but as a rising superpower it also seeks to establish its global leadership. Beijing constantly presents joint military efforts between the United States and its allies as provocations, while indicating China’s own willingness to respect the security concerns of other states, as well as to observe the objectives and principles of the Charter of the United Nations. The GSI can promote a benign superpower image.
That said, there is considerable concern in neighboring countries about China’s growing power – for example China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. Additionally, the United States and its allies have stepped up efforts to protect against what it sees as a “Chinese threat,” both in economic and security terms, including talk of decoupling.
However, the GSI could be useful as a counter. Other analysts said this is the first time China has argued for indivisible security while pointing out the implications of US actions in Asia. “If China considers that the actions of the United States and its allies in Taiwan or the South China Sea do not take into account its security concerns, it could invoke the concept of “indivisible security” to claim high morality in retaliation,” said Li Mingjiang, associate professor. at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore told Reuters. Focusing more on the economy, China has a large and growing domestic market, but its economic structure is still largely export-oriented. Speaking about Europe’s fears in a familiar language could build confidence in a China-led global value chain.
So what have been the global responses so far, and what should they be?
Who are the GSI’s targeted allies?
Russia of course already supports China’s initiative. However, while so far EU-China trade relations remain intact, Europe is alarmed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and continues to rethink its relationship with China. Despite the European roots of the indivisible security principle, it seems that Europe is in no rush to join the new China-led initiative.
Moreover, some neighboring countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines, already do not see China acting in accordance with “indivisible security” in the South China Sea. If these countries are to be integrated, China may need to make active concessions on maritime borders and allow neighboring coastal states access to some of the resources of the South China Sea, especially fish and minerals.
Pacific countries are another target of China’s new security concept. However, as last week’s meeting with Foreign Minister Wang Yi proved, these countries will need more time to coordinate and discuss, as many have done with the Belt and Road Initiative. the Road” (BRI). The same is likely true for the Latin America and Caribbean region, also given their differentiated speed of engagement with the BRI.
The African region is another target. In the context of existing security partnerships with African countries that adhere to the principle of non-interference, many African governments are likely to view “indivisible security” as well aligned with their views on international security. Moreover, like the BRI, the GSI could be seen by some African countries as an opportunity to wield greater influence in global economics and politics.
But if China really wants the GSI to have a high impact globally, it is the South Asia region that is most critical to engage. In particular, India, like Africa, has a population of 1.4 billion – but unlike Africa, India is a state, with nuclear weapons, purchasing power which, around 2024, will exceed the United Kingdom, France and Germany combined, and an annual GDP growth of 8-9 percent. India is a rising global superpower. However, ongoing border disputes, as well as China’s stance on the Pakistani-Indian conflict in Kashmir pose a problem. For India to accept China’s initiative, India must have a clearer idea of how the Chinese principle of “indivisible security” would play out in relations with India itself. In fact, the same can be said of Pakistan. But India is clearly ready to talk to China and “sit on its own ground”, as Foreign Minister Jaishankar explained in a recent interview.
The concept of indivisible security is not new. But by proposing the GSI, China is trying to show that it has concrete ideas for the world, now in a new area. China does not lack ambition, and at a time when the world is facing a multidimensional crisis, Beijing sees an opportunity. It’s timely, and we’ve been here before.
Launched in 2013 as the “One Belt, One Road” policy, what evolved to become known as the Belt and Road Initiative was a fairly broad Chinese initiative around global economic partnerships. It was hazy at first, but went on to garner support, influence economic trends, and shape global economic cooperation, including the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Today, the BRI continues to evolve, although it has had little or no commitment from Europe, Japan or the United States, even though these might have initially to be ideal partners for China.
Maybe that’s what we should expect from the Chinese GSI. That said, whatever the strategy, China alone cannot create global governance. Beijing needs big countries like India, Russia and the African continent to make the GSI truly global. Like the BRI, only time will tell if China’s latest initiative will succeed.