As the world anticipates a potential World War 3, smaller-scale conflicts are raging all around the globe. Besides symmetric conflicts, nontraditional and asymmetric conflicts are increasingly shaping both economic and security concerns. In addition to these conflicts and their exacerbation along the lines of identity, religion, and political ideology, another obstacle to a stable international order is on the rise—namely, an increase in regional and exclusive security blocs. The progressively exclusive nature of these blocs hinges largely on their linear concerns about the recent global developments. A number of these blocs appear to be creating an encirclement around China, which stands at the forefront of this emerging economic and security development.
These blocs are significant not only for the number of bigger powers joining in as members but also because most of them carry forth the Western strategic interest of curtailing China’s growing influence in the region and beyond. New and old alliances and partnerships are reflective of this stance. Its most clear manifestation is found in the American bilateral security engagement with Taiwan. Another prominent demonstration is the promotion and strengthening of strategic initiatives such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD). This quadripartite arrangement comprising the US, Japan, India and Australia is explicitly focused on the Indo-Pacific region. This region currently facilitates over 40% of the world’s exports and over 30% of its imports, and remains vital to the strategic interests of the various QUAD members.
Other arrangements, including the security pact AUKUS – comprising the US, UK and Australia – cover the joint development of several military technologies, including undersea nuclear capabilities and Artificial Intelligence in the Asia Pacific region. The agendas proposed under these arrangements all signal an impending arms race. Most of these alliances have a clear goal of containing China. China has also emerged as a concern for existing alliances like the Five Eyes. This intelligence-sharing alliance comprises the major English-speaking democracies of the world, including Canada and New Zealand, in addition to the three AUKUS members. Historically this alliance has been unified in its approach to several issues, such as the erstwhile Soviet threat. However, recently the political opinion within the alliance has diverged with regard to the future treatment of China. Australia and Canada’s recent provocation over the East and South China seas, respectively, also adds to a progressively hostile security situation.
China also welcomes existing US allies into what it terms “a new concept of security”. Coupled with China’s economic vision, such a security vision may be more welcomed by states which require strategic international backing without committing to rigid demands.
These developments point to the increasing anxiety surrounding China’s pivot to global power status. Concomitantly, there has been an increase in insecurity as arms races ensue in different regions of the world in the name of ensuring individual state security and building alliances. Arms transfer statistics for recent years already show sporadic arms buildup; the regions of Oceania and Asia account for 43% of the transfers globally, being the largest importers of major arms. Moreover, western policy towards China also favours such proliferation. Such arms transfer, combined with the increasing tilt towards exclusive blocs, clearly signals a reactive stance to the revival and expansion of the Silk Road network across major continents of the world. Significant opposition has been voiced over, for example, China’s involvement in the Pacific region. In this region, China, unlike most Western countries, pays considerable attention to nontraditional security affairs, including pandemic relief and public health. China has also been more efficient in delivering on its promises to partners; these include, amongst other deliverables, vaccines and financial assistance.
Additionally, China has strongly censured the Western preclusive stance and reaction over its global involvement. It also views such moves as invoking a Cold War mentality. At this time of growing global insecurity, China has also put forth its Global Security Initiative (GSI). This initiative aims at establishing cooperation between international partners around the globe to work toward common security. In the face of unilateral and bloc security arrangements, China proposes to work for inclusive global security, which it has envisioned as a “global public good”. Defining security as a public good undoubtedly presents an alternative lens for viewing security in the international arena. This initiative, therefore, aims to be a true effort toward multilateralism. As outlined in a speech by President Xi Jinping during the Annual Conference 2022 of the Boao Forum, among other things, the GSI aims to address public health, climate change, and balance development and security. It sets as its target “sustainable, common, cooperative and comprehensive” security. Resultantly, the initiative will uphold the values of the UN Charter of maintaining world peace.
This security initiative aligns with China’s long-standing opposition to rigid security blocs. Instead, China promotes non-binding and flexible partnerships. The proposed partnerships are inclusive and noninstitutionalised. China also welcomes existing US allies into what it terms “a new concept of security”. Coupled with China’s economic vision, such a security vision may be more welcomed by states which require strategic international backing without committing to rigid demands. This welcoming attitude has also been evident in the annual participation in the Beijing-led Xiangshan Security Forum. Held since 2006 along the lines of track 1.5 and track 2 diplomacy, this forum has persistently attracted broad international representation to discuss a range of nuanced issues related to major power relations, security and strategic concerns. Although China’s conception of security – including such comprehensive dialogue forums and the GSI – has been criticised as being too broad and general, it aligns with the country’s vision of reducing polarity in the international security architecture. It is trying to reshape its relationships around the world; countries will either be China’s friends or its partners. This security vision and China’s overall approach to turning disparate notions of security into a comprehensive and inclusive public good indicates a drastically different approach and possibility for the international security order. If this vision continues to manifest positively, the coming decades will likely bring a new security architecture based on looser partnerships and overlapping security commitments.