China’s global security initiative: Rhetoric vs reality
THE Global Security Initiative (GSI), which President Xi introduced in April this year, contributes to the plethora of policy acronyms, including the Global Development Initiative (GDI) and the widely recognized Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The GSI has garnered consistent scholarly interest among experts in Chinese studies since its inception. The timing of the initiative, which occurred shortly after the commencement of Russia’s war in Ukraine, is not unexpected.
This incident is a landmark point of the post-Cold War era and may influence global security governance. Western governments’ suspicions of post-war military cooperation between China and Russia have fuelled discussions about the GSI’s underlying themes. GSI negotiations have continued despite lacking a solid alliance and substantial military aid from Beijing to Moscow.
In the context of the Chinese endeavour, it is crucial to understand the actual capacity of the GSI and China’s ability to implement it. Within a realistic framework of China’s role as a global security participant, the current GSI appears to serve more as a rhetorical tool to advance Chinese perspectives on global security governance than as a concrete plan for establishing a Chinese world order.
Although the GSI has been presented with lofty language, it has lacked substantial specifics. According to a recent explainer by Chris Cash, the GSI is founded upon six key principles, which include prioritizing sovereignty, adhering to the UN charter and recognizing the concept of indivisible security. The second option is particularly remarkable.
The GSI has been utilized in various foreign policy and diplomatic endeavours throughout Africa and the Middle East. The GSI has rapidly gained significance in China’s diplomatic discourse, indicating the mobilization of numerous party-state institutions and organizations to disseminate Xi Jinping’s recent policy narrative.
Despite this initial enthusiasm, the GSI will encounter severe challenges in practice. First, despite China’s ambitions, the GSI may not have adequate regulatory instruments to achieve Xi’s aspirational policy goals. The GSI claims to address conventional and non-conventional security issues. For that, China would have to consider various security-related acts by various Chinese enterprises to secure its current partnerships with international parties. China’s “Go Out” initiative to participate in the global economy has created many Chinese commercial businesses abroad. However, the regulatory framework to prevent and manage negative externalities connected with these businesses has been inadequate. Despite China’s centralization under Xi Jinping, security governance dynamics exist.
The coordination of many Chinese players engaging in traditional and non-traditional security operations abroad would demand a solid policy framework for the GSI, capable of managing these groups’ diverse and occasionally competing agendas and vested interests. Given its maritime militia’s grey zone actions in the South China Sea, China’s GSI promotion in Southeast Asia would be difficult. In addition, the Global Security Initiative (GSI) must broaden its scope beyond security measures and involve economic entities. The GSI should incorporate environmental risk mitigation. Beijing’s inventive goals may conflict with China’s global fishing fleets, which have depleted marine resources from Africa to Latin America. How can the GSI stop Chinese companies from illegally mining in countries like Ghana, which have complex political systems that harm indigenous peoples?
The matter at hand does not pertain to selectively choosing evidence to undermine the viability of the GSI but rather to demonstrate the immense difficulty of effectively executing the initiative. Suppose the various adverse externalities are not addressed. In that case, the Global Security Initiative (GSI) may only serve as a theoretical structure to promote an optimistic concept of worldwide security, with limited practical solutions to mitigate the existing issues and empower the affected local populations.
For the above reasons, developing nations’ local governments and non-governmental groups are crucial. China’s alternative global order is aimed at the Global South, notwithstanding the GSI’s importance in Sino-Russian relations. Global security governance has become more forceful under Xi. However, Chinese partners’ participation in the GSI will determine this initiative’s success. Developing nations have sought Beijing’s help in tackling regional and local security issues, disproving the claim that Chinese interests are the primary motivation. The comprehension of the initiative’s long-term prospects necessitates the consideration of their concerns. This underscores the importance of accounting for their problems as well.
The GSI’s rhetoric-to-reality transition is still underway and faces challenges. The likelihood of achieving traction is uncertain as China has already presented many rebranding frameworks to other nations, but a few have progressed beyond Beijing’s nominal endorsement, which raises questions about this initiative.
Monitoring the GSI’s progress over the following years and how it relates to China’s larger goals of reforming global governance will be critical. When examining China’s motivations, it is critical to consider the practical constraints that will be placed on the country. However, none of this should diminish the importance of the GSI or China’s efforts to advance it. Instead, it should emphasize how crucial it is to see programs like GSI as just one aspect of China’s expanding security role and its evolving efforts to tie together a variety of initiatives into proposals that can gain traction in the region and position China more favourably in comparison to other perceived rivals.
—The writer works as a researcher with the Arms Control and Disarmament Centre at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad.
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