Washington, DC – China’s President Xi Jinping delivered a video link address proposing a “global security initiative” (GSI) based on the premise of “indivisible security” during the annual Boao Forum in April 2022. The speech was significant because it was the first time China hinted at a new approach to global security “with Chinese features.” However, Xi’s description of the GSI was severely weak in specifics. So, will it be a success?
There are compelling reasons why Beijing has chosen this particular moment to propose the GSI and its principles. Today, the world is confronting a multifaceted crisis: economies were still grappling with the health and budgetary consequences of the COVID-19 epidemic when Russia invaded Ukraine, driving commodity prices up and generating global concerns about energy and food security. Ukraine has joined Yemen, Afghanistan, and northern Ethiopia as areas where conflict has produced humanitarian crises, even as UNICEF warns of climate-related catastrophes throughout the Horn of Africa.
While there has been no shortage of diplomatic language from world leaders asking for collaboration to address these concerns, the truth remains that pursuing geopolitical and security interests not only stifles international cooperation but may also directly create war and other catastrophes.
This is when the “indivisible security” notion comes into play. The principle was first stated in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, in which member nations of the Euro-Atlantic bloc affirmed a readiness to perpetuate peace. Founded on the premise that no country can increase its security at the expense of others, the idea underlines the value of state collaboration while emphasizing the converse – that insecurity in one state affects others.
It portrays national security as a non-excludable, non-rivalrous global public benefit for economists.
According to the OSCE’s 2010 paper on indivisible security, the notion entails more than just establishing parameters for communication across antagonistic blocs. Concurrently, the declaration agrees that nations have an equal right to security, including the inherent ability to choose or modify security arrangements or treaties freely.
The notion of indivisible security is also well-liked in the Kremlin. For example, Russia regards contempt for the concept of indivisible security as one of the main reasons for the Ukrainian conflict and its adherence as part of the solution.
So, why is China fond of this principle?
Like every other state, China pursues its own interests, but as a developing powerhouse, it also aspires for global leadership. Beijing frequently portrays cooperative military actions between the United States and its allies as provocations while signaling China’s willingness to accept other countries’ security concerns as well as the goals and values of the United Nations Charter. The GSI can project a positive image of a benign superpower.
However, neighboring countries are concerned about China’s rise, particularly its territorial claims in the South China Sea. Furthermore, the United States and its allies have increased their efforts to counter what they regard as a “China threat,” both economically and militarily.
The GSI, on the other hand, maybe valuable as a counter. According to some commentators, this is the first time China has advocated for indivisible security while highlighting the ramifications of US actions in Asia. “If China considers the United States and its allies’ actions on Taiwan or in the South China Sea to be disregarding its security concerns, it may invoke the concept of ‘indivisible security’ to claim the moral high ground in retaliation,” Li Mingjiang, associate professor at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told news agencies. In terms of economics, China has a vast and expanding domestic market, but its economy is still heavily reliant on exports. Speaking to Europe’s anxieties in a common language may enhance trust in a government.
So, what have been the worldwide reactions thus far, and what should they be?
Russia already supports China’s proposal. However, while EU-China commercial links have remained unbroken thus far, Europe is concerned about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and is reconsidering its China connections. Even though the notion of indivisible security has European roots, it appears that Europe is not in a rush to join the new China-led initiative.
Furthermore, several neighboring nations, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines, believe China is not behaving in accordance with “indivisible security” in the South China Sea. To bring these countries on board, China may need to make active concessions on maritime boundaries and enable nearby coastal governments to access the sea.
The Pacific nations are another target for China’s new security strategy. However, as demonstrated by last week’s meeting with Foreign Minister Wang Yi, these nations will require more time to coordinate and deliberate, as many did with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The same is expected to be true for the Latin American and Caribbean areas, given their varying rates of participation with BRI.
Another objective is the African continent. Many African nations are likely to regard “indivisible security” as aligned with their ideas on international security in the context of current security cooperation with African countries that adhere to the non-interference principle. Furthermore, like the BRI, some African nations may regard the GSI as an opportunity to have more significant influence in global affairs.