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New Security Concept of China; By M. V Rappai

C3S Paper No. 0103/ 2015

Chinese President and Party General Secretary Xi Jinping, used his Keynote address to this year’s Boao Forum, 28 March 2015, held at Hainan Island of China, to remind the world community about the necessity of adopting the New Security Concept (NSC) for the benefit of all humanity. Basically he was arguing for the common security of all people and nations on the basis of a “comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security”.

Immediately after the collapse of the bipolar world system, which was largely based on the threat perception between two big power blocs, and the unimaginable maladies of a mutually assured destruction of civilization,as we know it, by horrendous nuclear weapons. China, then an emerging power started looking for ways to safeguard its own periphery through the mechanism of “Shanghai Five”, which was later on formally constituted as the “Shanghai Cooperation Organisation” (SCO).

However, the decision of United States of America to despatch its Carrier Group Seven centred around USS Nimitz, in March 1996 during the peak of China – Taiwan cross straits crisis, compelled the Chinese authorities to look at the available security options more closely. Chinese military strategists came up with a series of asymmetric options. Meanwhile,the political leadership started assessing its security situation as per the changing conditions around it.

Application of long term or perspective planning for calculating the strategic scenario has been an integral part of China’s thinking process. The long tradition of a permanent and well trained bureaucratic system better known as ‘mandarins’ have allowed China to carry forward this legacy. Maintenance of historical memories and preservation of written records further augmented this process. Yet, the unprecedented and tumultuous changes ininternational system unfolded were totally unpredictable.

As alluded earlier an all out war under use or threat to use nuclear weapons was impossible to think. Therefore, Chinese leadership started thinking about a new security concept, largely based on a cooperative security mechanism. In early part of this century, while the globalisation was still under progress on a trajectory, the world was suddenly confronted the onslaught of organised terrorism. The sudden death of thousands of Americans brought home the limitations of the weapons of mass destruction. Almost simultaneously the sudden changes happening in the realm of global economic management, which was largely based on Bretton Woods institutions, started closely intertwining with the global order.

Initially various officials of government and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) talked about the new concept. Later on then party General Secretary Jiang Zemin officially enunciated this concept. Originally the NSC was designed to assuage the security related apprehensions of the immediate neighbours of China. Later on this new concept became an integral part of Chinese Military white papers and other major foreign policy documents. The national Defence Whitepapers issued in 1998, 2000, 2002, 2008 etc., have specifically invoked or clarified different aspects of NSC.

Asian financial crisis of 1997 started with the collapse of Thai baht suddenly spread to major Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) like Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines etc. The help extended by China in solving this crisis to some of its neighbours also become a turning point in managing its peripheral security environment.

China’s official position paper on new security concept defines it as, “in essence, to rise above one-sided security and seek common security through mutually beneficial cooperation. It is a concept established on the basis of common interests and is conducive to social progress.” If one goes by this definition, the NSC proposed by Chinese leadership is in essential a reiteration of her known strategic thought process. This provides an opportunity and a challenge to her neighbour including India. Seeking common security through mutually beneficial cooperation is an ideal situation for many of the ills of present day international system. However, the question is how to reach this avowed goal. The common security must respect and ensure the security of each and every country.

If one cut through the rhetoric, the new security concept of China is by and large the strategic goal of Chinese leadership, where it want to take the nation. Therefore, many a nuances of this concept is a continuation of the ‘comprehensive national strength’ argument put forward by the Communist Party of China (CPC) in late1980s and early 90s.At the global level the things are going to remain fluid for some time to come. China’s position at the global level would certainly be improved comparatively, but no single power  or a compact group of nations cannot manage the situation as was the case for last five or six decades after the Second World War and the adoption of United Nations Charter.

Whenever, Chinese leaders talk about the NSC, they mainly want this to be an initiative for its periphery in Asia for the time being. Later on it can be extended to the global level. Let us see what Xi Jinping has in mind for Asia. “To build a community of common destiny, we need to ensure inclusiveness and mutual learning among civilizations. History, over the past millennia, has witnessed ancient civilizations appear and thrive along the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers, the Indus, the Ganges, the Euphrates, and the Tigris River as well as in Southeast Asia, each adding its own splendour to the progress of human civilization. Today, Asia has proudly maintained its distinct diversity and still nurtures all the civilizations, ethnic groups and religions in this big Asian family.” Xi is trying to address the question of Asia from a cultural and civilizational perspective. This approach needs to be properly understood before one jumps into conclusions.

At a strategic level the top Chinese leadership is assuming that the ability of US or any other combination of powers to intervene in Asia militarily is becoming a highly complex operation. This does not assume that the U S military power is reduced substantially or its willingness to wage war is vanished. However, American ability to deploy boots on the ground in a sizeable way has certainly diminished. Hence the Asian nations are compelled to find ways to settle their own differences. China’s recent attempts to mend fences with Japan and Vietnam clarify this point further.

After putting down the civilizational approach Xi further clarifies, “ it is important to bear in mind both the history and reality of Asia, take a multi-pronged and holistic approach, improve coordinated regional security governance, and safeguard security in both the traditional and non-traditional realms. It is important to conduct dialogue and cooperation to enhance security at national and regional levels, and to increase cooperation as the way to safeguard peace and security. It is important to resolve disputes through peaceful means, and oppose the willful use or threat of force.”

He further reiterated the linkages of security with development, according to Xi “both should be given equal emphasis”. Currently, the sustainable development surely provides a way to sustainable security. “Countries in Asia need to step up cooperation with countries and organizations outside the region and all parties are welcome to play a positive and constructive role in upholding development and security in Asia.”

As a major Asian power and a prominent neighbor of China, we need to pay special attention to the ‘new security concept’ and related developments. Under such a complex scenario let us see what are the options available to India? In coming years the economic interdependency of both these Asian nations are likely to go up, however, one has to note that for us, China would remain as the number one commodity trade partner, whereas, for China, her Asian neighbour, India may not become such a significant trade partner within the coming few years. This provides us with enough space andopportunity to fashion our responses in the coming decade or so.

For meeting the future challenges India has to certainly sort out the external issues, but many of such problems are closely linked to our own domestic problems.According to the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) State of the World’s Population report, with 356 million 10-24 year-olds, India has the world’s largest youth population despite having a smaller population than China.China is second with 269 million young people, followed by Indonesia (67 million).

If we have to make use of this youth power, India must adopt and implement urgent measures to sort out the human resources problems. The youth power has to be trained and organized for fruitful deployment of them in nation’s ‘make in India’ project.If we do not act quickly this major advantage can turn to be a major headache.This calls for urgent solution. Education and skill development sectors have to choke out well meaning and implementable solutions. Indian elite and bureaucracy is notorious for its dilly dallying tactics. This jugaadu or takeit easy approach have to change. We are competing with a dynamic world, where innovation is the buzzword.

In India agriculture and allied sectors like forestry and fisheries accounted for 13.7% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013, but this sector employed nearly 50percent of our workforce. Sadly, since the new government came into power in India, there is a wrong perception is growing that the agriculture is no more a fashionable subject which deserves the attention of the elite and glitterati. Whereas in early 1980s China started her reform and opening up programme basing on her agricultural sector. During the transition period towards an industry/service based mode of production, revitalizing the agricultural sector is crucial. This must be the focal point for ‘make in India’ programme to become a success.

While India enhances its interactions and trade with China in the future, which is a logical progression of the ongoing relations between the two Asian neighbours. While developing such relations one need to look at the broader security issues affecting our vital interests. In modern times mere bean counting of number of soldiers and fighter planes would not provide us the real capabilities of any two neighbours. Especially in the case of China, a nation which shares its land and maritime boundaries with a variety of nations.For some time to come the ongoing problems with its eastern neighbours and their allies will call for a different mechanism to look at these issues. We have to work out India’s deterrence capabilities from this larger perspective. Some of these key areas are briefly discussed below.

Both India and China being declared nuclear weapon states (NWS), India need to look at suitable capabilities relevant for its defence in the future. India is well known for its cyber potential, but thisprowess is largely restricted to software development and related areas. In the modern era to compete with China in meaningful manner we need to urgently upgrade our cyber potential substantially in its length and breadth.

India and China have attained considerable achievements in space. Both nations can launch large satellites for a variety of uses. China has already gained an upper hand in the commercial satellite launch market. India is still to catch up in this area. However, in relation to the defence potential of space India has to catch up in areas like spacebased early warning systems, capacity to shoot down or upset the enemy satellites etc.

Once India declared itself as a nuclear weapon power, we need to factor this reality into our future strategic calculations. The ability to deter and compel an adversary is the key in avoiding a nuclear war. In normal case such a war should not be our option at all. But nuclear weapons only can deter adversaries’ nuclear arsenal. Another key factor is that this has to be achieved at a minimum cost. Viewing from an overall scenario India is likely to continue to spent minimum on our defence efforts including the nuclear weapon capabilities. Therefore, it is essential to get maximum benefit out of our efforts.As a nation we need to prepare ourselves better and face the challenges boldly. The terminologies need not bog us down, India have to operate under the changing circumstances. As a big nation in Asia we have to play our role and take benefit from the emerging new order. We have to work with all our neighbours, including China.

(The writer is an Honorary Fellow at Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi)

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