Building a Community of Common Security: China’s Approach to Its Neighborhood

China International Studies (English) - - Contents - Ling Shengli

The building of a community of common security is an extremely important yet difficult step towards the community of shared future in China’s neighborhood, mixed with competitions in power, institutions, and concepts. The “dual coordination” strategy for neighborhood security is a Chinese response to the current situation and future trends.

Support from China’s neighborhood (land and maritime areas adjacent to China) is important for China’s stated goal of peaceful development. In this regard, neighborhood diplomacy is a top priority in China’s diplomatic arrangements. In October 2013, at the first Conference on the Diplomatic Work with Neighboring Countries, General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out that awareness of “a community of shared future” should take root in neighboring countries. This statement marks the first mention by a Chinese leader of “neighborhood diplomacy.”

At the abovementioned conference in 2013, Xi set out China’s new neighbor-centric foreign policy, also known as China’s “neighborhood diplomacy.” In his speech, Xi echoed Hu Jintao’s rhetoric, saying that Chinese diplomats should “let the awareness of community of common destiny take root in neighboring countries.”1

In March 2015, in his report on the government’s work, Premier Li Keqiang emphasized the importance of comprehensively promoting neighborhood diplomacy and building a community of shared future with China’s neighborhood. All this shows that the Chinese government attaches a great importance to neighborhood diplomacy, and that building of a community of a shared future with China’s neighborhood has become an important goal in China’s neighborhood diplomacy. However, a community

of a shared future with China’s neighborhood is a long-term goal which encompasses three phases: a community of common interests, a community of common security, and finally a community of shared future. Among them, the building of a community of common security is an extremely important, yet difficult step. In order to better promote the building of a community of common security with China’s neighborhood, China has put forward the new Asian security concept, and is also seeking to build a new security structure for the entire Asia-pacific region. These measures will undoubtedly serve to promote the building of a community of common security with China’s neighborhood in the region. In discussing the issues related to the concept of a community of common security with China’s neighborhood, the current analysis aims to generate more attention toward and spur subsequent research on this issue.

Necessity for a Community of Common Security

At present, multi-polarization and economic globalization are gaining momentum across the globe. A pattern of common interests in which all countries have a bit of each other’s has taken shape.2

With a keen appreciation of the current trend of world development, Chinese leadership has put forward the concept of a community of shared future, which has been used as a conceptual framework at various regional, bilateral, and neighborhood diplomatic levels. The community of a shared future for mankind has become the core of Xi Jinping’s diplomatic theories and practice.3 It is an important diplomatic concept in the era, one that demonstrates the increased demand for China to forge a renewed relationship with the world.4

The proposal of a community of shared future between China and its neighborhood clarifies the long-term goal of China’s neighborhood diplomacy. However, the key question lies in how such a community will be realized. During his visit to Southeast Asia, Xi Jinping made a four-point proposal in this regard:

First, we should work together to uphold peace and stability in Asia and foster a sound environment that enables us to achieve development and prosperity.

Second, we should form synergy between our respective development strategies to lend more momentum to growth in our respective countries.

Third, we should actively pursue security cooperation. Together, we can achieve open, inclusive and win-win cooperation among neighbors that is based on mutual respect and mutual trust, and achieved by expanding common ground and narrowing differences.

Fourth, we should strengthen the close bonds among our peoples and ensure long-term harmony and cooperation among the Asian countries.5

This four-point proposal concerns peace, development, security and people-to-people bonds. The first and the third point, in fact, mainly refer to security cooperation, which illustrates the great importance attached to the concept. China’s neighborhood is geographically situated within Asia, hence the importance given to security cooperation by the concept of an Asian community of shared future overlaps China’s neighborhood policy. At the Boao Forum for Asia 2014, Premier Li Keqiang pointed out that the community of a shared future should focus on security cooperation, and actively discussed the establishment of a framework for regional security cooperation in Asia.6

The following year, during the Boao Forum for Asia 2015, Xi Jinping emphasized that building a community of a shared future requires common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security. For the President Xi, the Cold War mentality should truly be discarded and new security concepts be nurtured to explore a path for Asia that ensures a jointly built, shared and winwin security framework.7 Consequently, security cooperation has become an important dimension in building of a community of a shared future between China and its neighborhood. In other words, building of a community of common security amongst China and the nations in its neighborhood is a key phase in achieving a community of a shared future.

In the light of its overwhelming size and multiple neighbors, in terms of neighborhood security, China needs not only the support of its neighborhood for peaceful development, but similarly its neighborhood to function as a pivot area for security policies during the country’s shift from regional to global power. At present, China maintains generally good relations with its neighboring countries. However, the security situation in the neighborhood is complex, containing both Cold War legacies and hotspot issues, traditional and non-traditional security problems, security dilemmas caused by struggles between major regional powers, as well as asymmetric struggles between big and small countries. In addition, issues such as territorial disputes, maritime rights and interests disputes, as well as the continued intervention from outside powers, form the backdrop of China’s highly unstable neighborhood. Whether solutions can be found to some of the security issues concerning China, and whether China’s neighborhood can achieve peace and stability, largely depends upon the completion of a community of common security, expected to generate, inter alia, a community of a shared future.

Some scholars, such as Liu Zongyi, believe that building the Asian community of a shared future should be achieved by reuniting common

interests, security and culture.8

The community of a shared future is multilateral by definition. As far as the building process is concerned, the community of common economy and common security become essential in generating a full-fledged community of shared future, appealing to political, economic, security, social and cultural implications, inter alia.9

Despite the differing views on which connotations might be contained within the community of shared future, most Chinese scholars have realized that the building of a community of common security is vital in achieving a community of shared future.

In summary, the building of a community of shared future is a grand project that needs unremitting efforts. In order to realize such a community between China and its neighborhood, these efforts must include a proper development of the phases of a community of common interests, and the community of common security. To be specific, to forge a community of common interests in which all countries are stakeholders, efforts should be made to deepen cooperation in all areas and strengthen shared interests. In achieving such a community of common security between China and its neighborhood, efforts should be made to constantly enhance strategic communication and seek responsibility sharing, so that all countries can partake in the overcoming of adversity and the sharing of prosperity. A community of a shared future requires to continuously promote cultural and people-to-people exchanges and strengthen collective identity, so that all countries aim for convergence. Hence, building a community of common security between China and the nations in its neighborhood becomes of crucial importance. Such a process concerns whether the building of the community of a shared future can answer the practical questions that invariably arise when faced with the division of economy and security, and has a major bearing on

the development of sustainable relations between China and its neighbors. Therefore, building a community of common security between China and the nations in its neighborhood is a clear and necessary goal.

In order to promote a community of shared future between China and its neighborhood, a series of measures have been taken by China, including strengthening CHINA-ASEAN cooperation, the Belt and Road Initiative, and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Generally speaking, at present, China is making significant efforts to promote the building of a community of common interests along its neighborhood, with a view towards enhancing mutual benefit and common prosperity. The most critical issue for China, however, is the building of a community of common security between China and the nations in its neighborhood, aiming at abandoning the use of force to achieve common security, both in value and practice.

Challenges Facing a Community of Common Security

The increasingly complicated security situation around China has a lot to do with competition, in terms of power, concept and mechanism. Competition, in its various forms, has presented major challenges in building of a community of common security between China and its neighborhood.

Competition for power

The United States (US), Japan, India, and Russia are the four major powers influencing the security situation around China. As the gap in strength between China and the US narrows, the US strategy has featured more prevention and containment. US have strengthened its existing alliance system, continuously expanded its security partnerships, and increased its participation in the multilateral security system in the region. This has made the US even more influential in the Asia-pacific region, which directly concerns China’s security interests. Japan is another important country that affects China’s security in the Asia-pacific region. The differences between China and Japan are related to historical issues, island disputes, and regional dominance. In

recent years, adding to the complexity of the security situation in East Asia is the fact that Japan has stepped up its participation in regional security based initiatives. It has not only strengthened the Us-japan alliance, but also enhanced its security contacts with other countries in the Asia-pacific region.10 These factors indicate that Japan’s influence on China’s overall security interests can by no means be underestimated. India is an important neighbor to the southwest of China. The country has shifted from the “Look East” strategy to the “Act East” strategy, and has continuously strengthened its relations with ASEAN, Japan, South Korea, Australia and other Asia-pacific countries.

Although India’s long-term security isolationism has made it cautious in its security cooperation with Southeast Asian countries,11 it is an indisputable fact that it will continue to factor heavily in China’s security interests. Russia shares China’s second longest border, after Mongolia. This fact makes Russia an important player in China’s security interests. Stable relations between China and Russia are an important foundation for the security of China’s neighboring areas. In addition, the European Union aims for a role in Asia’s security through soft power, yet in the field of traditional security, its effects are inconsequential at best.12

With the Asia-pacific region playing an increasingly important role in global strategy, the interaction among major powers in China’s neighborhood has continued to deepen, accelerating both cooperation and competition. On one hand, there has been a ratcheting up of strategic cooperation between China and Russia, the US and India, and the US and Japan. On the other hand, as time progresses, competitive confrontations between the Us-russia, China-us and China-japan are becoming more aggravated.13 All this has inevitably exacerbated the complexity of China’s security interests, and has

significantly affected both the development and implementation of China’s neighborhood security cooperation mechanism.

Competition of mechanisms

Despite a Chinese neighborhood security mechanism having been achieved, it can be argued that such a construction continues to be relatively loose. Competition among various security mechanisms has made the situation very “fragmented.” As a result, the level of efficiency required for the carrying out of effective governance has not been attained.14

In general, there are five types of security mechanisms that are currently installed within the Asia-pacific region, including alliances, security forums, special mechanisms for security hotspot issues, inter-regional security cooperation mechanisms and security dialogue mechanisms.15 The security mechanisms in the neighborhood areas of China could be divided into three types, based on regional forces: first, the Us-led alliance mechanism; second, the ASEAN-LED collective security mechanism; and lastly, the multilateral security mechanism featuring China’s participation and coordination. The above forces aside, other multilateral security mechanisms are present within the region. They tend to feature a relatively loose, but extensive membership, communicating effectively in general, yet with limited effectiveness in terms of security governance.16

The Us-led alliance system has a long history in the Asia-pacific, and is currently the most institutionalized and effective regional security mechanism in the region. However, the system is highly targeted and exclusive, and has split up the security cooperation in the region. Therefore, it is not conducive to the building of a community of common security between China and its neighborhood. However, any security cooperation

mechanism in the Asia-pacific region that fails to properly accommodate, absorb and integrate the US Asia-pacific Alliance system, will greatly reduce its own effectiveness.

ASEAN has created, with its unique “ASEAN way,” a collective security mechanism featuring the platform of ASEAN itself. Such a lowinstitutionalized and ineffective form of security cooperation has provided a sustained platform for consultation on regional security cooperation. In particular, within the context of intensified strategic competition between China and US, and other major powers, ASEAN, as the “third force” in the Asia-pacific security structure, has become an increasingly important resource for securing China’s security interests in the region. However, as a result of the intensified competition among major powers, the ASEAN-LED security mechanism has suffered a loss in terms of cohesion and neutrality, which in turn affected its once “central position” within the overall security structure of the Asia-pacific.17 ASEAN does not seek to dominate regional security cooperation, but rather focuses on occupying a significant position in this regard.18

China has only recently become a contributor to neighboring regional security mechanisms. As China’s strength rises, so does its capacity and willingness to provide public security goods to the region. The neighborhood security cooperation mechanisms which include China advocate for multilateral consultation and coordination among major powers. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) represents a successful example in terms of neighborhood security cooperation. In order to prompt the resolution of some intractable security problems in the neighborhood, China has played an active and coordinating role in both the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear issue, as well as the China-laos-myanmar-thailand joint patrol on the Mekong River.19

In addition, there are also multiple sub-regional and informal security cooperation mechanisms which add to the already diverse field of multilevel and multi-model security cooperation mechanisms that surround China. However, amongst these mechanisms, an effective level of synergy has not been reached. Worse still, some security mechanisms have a closed membership or are competitive with each other. Presently, there remains a mismatch between security mechanisms and security issues, which has complicated China’s regional security interests, as well as undermined the overall effectiveness of security governance in the region.20

Competition of concepts

The concept of security is particularly important for the building of security mechanisms.21 At present, there are numerous disagreements on which security concepts are appropriate when dealing with China’s neighborhood. However, they can be roughly divided into three groups.

First, the alliance and non-alliance security concepts. The alliance approach is very targeted and exclusive, which has significantly increased its disadvantages and incompatibilities.22 However, the concept of nonalliance security accounts for the fact that alliance security has split regional cooperation, advocating for security cooperation through non-alliance. Important mechanisms for non-alliance security cooperation include security partnerships and the coordination among major powers. The Asia-pacific Alliance of US (APA) is inexorably linked to the security environment of China’s neighborhood areas, especially within the Asia-pacific region. Going beyond the targeted and exclusive nature of the APA, a more inclusive form of security cooperation holds the key to deepening regional security cooperation in China’s neighborhood.

Second, common security and development security. The realization

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