In April this year, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) laid out a new vision to re-establish the primacy of the Middle Kingdom (or zhong guo, ??) by adapting the ancient concept of Tianxia (??) which literally means “all under heaven”. In typical Beijing-style misdirection, this plan was disguised under the moniker ‘China’s Global Security Initiative’. When he announced the Initiative, at the Boao Forum on April 21, Xi Jinping asserted that this effort was based on dialogue, partnerships and win-win situations – or is this initiative just another case of standard CCP hypocrisy lexicon?
But before we discuss the Chinese proposal for GSI, lets glimpse into the other major decisions of Chairman Xi and the underlying factors which have necessitated Beijing’s new gambit:
1. Xi’s win-win developmental myth aka Belt and Road Initiative – As the CCP prepares to mark its 101st anniversary, global opinion and trust in China is reaching record low levels. With each passing week countries which bought into the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), all face crippling loan repayments. Notably, China’s banks are never willing to re-negotiate payments, and almost always have a ‘debt-for-ownership’ deal on hand – take for example the situation of Sri Lanka and Pakistan! So, even the CCP’s friends are getting wary of making any new deals… which is casting a deep shadow over Xi’s legacy.
2. Zero-Covid Mismanagement – The loss of faith in Beijing has been exacerbated by Xi’s refusal to recalibrate response to COVID in multiple Chinese cities. Extended lockdowns and mass quarantines have impacted global supply chains, with less developed countries facing the brunt of the economic hardship. Moreover, the complete failure of the much-touted Chinese model in containing COVID for over two months, even as the rest of the world regains a modicum of normalcy, has raised several questions about governance with CCP characteristics. Such doubts among political circles, where the CCP sought to expand influence, is deeply troubling for Xi and his party men.
3. China’s assistance to Russia’s Ukraine war – China has not been able to establish itself as a neutral player in the ongoing Russo-Ukraine conflict. Perceived by the West as supporting Russia, Beijing has faced strong headwinds across capitals in Europe. Moreover, coordinated Russia-China provocative military manoeuvres during the Quad Summit in Japan have reinforced the Western belief that Beijing and Moscow are cooperating militarily in the ongoing conflict. As a result, widespread resistance is being faced by Chinese commercial and political entities across Europe and America.
4. Rise of QUAD and Failure of Chinese Diplomacy – The deepening of the relationships among the Quad nations, as well as the declaration of multiple Quad projects and initiatives has impacted the CCP’s self-belief. Beijing was so confident of its ‘sea foam’ narrative of the Quad, that it seemingly ignored the positive effect its own provocations were having in binding together like-minded countries of the region. The Quad, today, is an accepted, welcomed and respected arrangement, which has both the capacity and capability to ensure the requisite degree of security across the Indo-Pacific, needed for inclusive growth and shared prosperity. The rise of a credible alternative, in an area which Beijing had assumed was its own backyard, has significantly undermined the CCP’s claims to absolute pre-eminence in the region.
China’s Global Security Initiative – overlook
Aimed at building an Asian Security Framework (with Chinese characteristics), the GSI is being touted as an alternative to confrontational alliances which seek zero-sum outcomes. The “six commitments” promised under this initiative as issued by Chinese Ambassador to Somalia, Ambassador Fei?Shengchao, are staying committed to –
- the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security
- respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries
- abiding by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter
- taking seriously the legitimate security concerns of all countries
- peacefully resolving differences and disputes between countries through dialogue and consultation
- maintaining security in both traditional and non-traditional domains
Packaged as a utopian, inclusive construct which promises to better serve Asian interests (than Quad/ AUKUS) the GSI makes a wonderful read… as a work of fiction. Some issues included in the GSI which jump out at the reader, particularly considering China’s recent track record in these areas, are – trust deficit due to irresponsible actions of nations, cold-war mentality, (dis)respect for territorial & maritime integrity, rising extremism and lastly zero-respect for international law!
To put this hypocrisy in perspective, consider the following –
- China’s all-weather friendship with Pakistan, including political support for proscribed terrorists, is the best example of a confrontational alliance anywhere in the world! Even today, extensive Chinese support to Pakistan’s deep state is resulting in extremist attacks across India, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
- China’s undeclared launch of a missile by a submarine (which almost hit a passenger plane), dangerous manoeuvres and tactics by Chinese jets over international airspace which could have collided with an Australian warplane, and clear records of essential commodity hoarding (wheat, oils, etc) by Chinese businessmen (while countries across the world grapple with supply shortages) – these are some of the recent examples of how China is among the biggest contributors to the global trust deficit.
- China’s blatant violation of international laws, manipulating markets and supply chains, disrupting legal economic activities outside its jurisdiction, etc – Beijing has forced a gathering of like-minded countries, which share concerns and agree on the manner these illegal actions must be countered. Moreover, the calls of war from Chinese ‘hawks’ have become far more explicit, frequent and extreme, espcially since Xi Jinping has taken over the command of CCP.
- China’s claims of respecting territorial integrity are possibly the most ludicrous of them all. From South China Sea to Tibet, and Taiwan, Beijing’s insatiable greed for territorial acquisition and disregard for opposing perspectives is well established. It is, therefore, laughable to see this point being championed by Xi, in his idea of GSI.
- China was the first country to engage with the Taliban post the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and it continues to shelter Pakistan’s booming terror industry. Significant proof has also come to light about Chinese support to extremists in Myanmar, Maldives and Northeast India. It would consequently be appropriate to say that China’s concern of rising extremism is another hypocritical feint by the CCP.
Will the world accept China’s Global Security Model?
Despite the obvious hypocrisy in the GSI proposal, Beijing does have a fair chance of success in areas where the US’ influence is resented. Some countries in South America, in particular, will welcome it as a medium to hedge their bets, thereby extracting more from the West. Closer to China, however, nations would do well to be more circumspect.
Alternatively, the GSI could be a way to distract the Chinese people from the widespread failures of the CCP in recent years, as well as China’s declining influence in multiple regions. A big, grandstanding announcement, notwithstanding limited capabilities to ensure success, would provide enough short-term political gains for Xi and his men to retain a favourable narrative during the CCP’s 101st birthday party. This may well be the true motive behind the GSI.
Any security framework with CCP characteristics would ultimately have a hierarchical architecture, with Xi enthroned at its summit. The GSI’s concept of an Asian Security Framework would yield an Asian order where Beijing commands the loyalty of all regional countries, and peace prevails at the pleasure of the CCP’s top leadership. With Chairman Xi all but certain to stake a claim to the ‘CCP Chairman for Life’ position during the upcoming Congress, he would ultimately become the ‘de facto’ emperor of the new Tianxia… the true goal of the CCP, particularly since Xi’s ascension in 2013-14.