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China’s New Concept of Security Updated to Version 3.0

Jul 11 , 2014

On June 28, President Xi Jinping, in a keynote speech at a commemoration marking the 60th anniversary of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence in Beijing, championed to uphold six aspects of the Five Principles in the new era – sovereignty and equality, common security, common development, cooperation for a win-win outcome, inclusiveness and mutual learning, equity, and justice. And on May 21, at the Fourth Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, President Xi envisioned a new concept of Asian security, which is characterized as comprehensive, cooperative, common, and sustainable. In October 2013, the conference on diplomatic work on neighboring countries charted the diplomatic strategy with neighboring countries in the coming five to 10 years, which highlights and underscores the construction of a community of common destiny and common development. All these point to one conclusion: The new concept of security has taken shape since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. In the past 20 years, the new concept of security, which serves as a tenet for China’s diplomatic work with neighboring countries, evolved with the times and significantly bolstered the construction of peaceful and harmonious neighborly diplomacy.

Zhai Kun

The new concept of security has undergone two stages of development. In the first stage (1991-2002), the primary mission was to promote the construction of peaceful neighborly diplomacy. The concept budded after the end of the Cold War and developed and matured in the 1990s and early this century, and was rooted in the principles of equality, mutual trust, mutual benefits and cooperation. This new concept was gradually developed and improved throughout the course of handling relations with neighboring countries. This new concept of security emerged during the border and frontier disarmament talks between China and the former Soviet Union, was first advocated in the development course of the “Shanghai Five”, was tested at such international multilateral conferences as the ASEAN Regional Forum and the Geneva disarmament talks, and was finalized in the report of the 16th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Under the guidance of the new concept, China settled its border issues with the Central Asian countries, and strengthened security cooperation, both on conventional and non-conventional fronts, within the regional organizations such as the “Shanghai Five” and the ASEAN Regional Forum. The new concept during this era could be described as Version 1.0.

During the second stage (2002-2012), the main task was to promote harmonious relations with neighboring nations. The tenets of the new concept of security are intertwined in the White Paper on China’s Peaceful Development, the White Paper on China’s National Defense, as well as reports and documents of the Party. Together with and supplemented by other foreign policy theories, they constitute an organic whole of China’s outlook on security, and are important components of China’s endeavor to take the road of peaceful development and to promote the construction of a harmonious world. Guided by this new concept, China pushed for the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, signed the Declaration on the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea with the ASEAN, joined the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, vigorously promoted the “Six-Party Talks” for the settlement of Korean nuclear issues, and took part in the Shangri-La Dialogue, the East Asia Summit, and the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus to cope with and tackle such global issues as disasters, climate change, energy, and global financial crisis. The new concept of security in this era could be described as Version 2.0. It had played an irreplaceable role in defending China’s important strategic opportunity, shaping China’s image as a responsible big power, taking the road of peaceful development, and constructing harmonious relations with the neighboring countries. 

Developing relations with neighboring countries is not only a top priority but also an example of China’s diplomatic work. At the conference on diplomatic work on neighboring countries, President Xi urged attendees to develop a complete system of theories and practices on the construction of the neighborly community of common destiny by upholding the principles of amity, sincerity, reciprocity, and inclusiveness. Through combining these with the core tenets of the new concept of security – equality, mutual benefits, mutual trust and cooperation – will help make the new concept of security the common outlook of China, neighboring countries, and the world as a whole. In other words, the new concept of security is poised to usher in the third decade of development, and it is necessary to update the concept to Version 3.0, on the basis of the past two decades. In essence, Version 3.0 should accommodate better to the characteristics of the post-financial crisis era, and could reflect the development trends of the world and the neighboring countries. In practice, Version 3.0 should be able to play a guiding role in solving new problems in the new era, and could help make it easier for the application and implementation of the core tenets of equality, mutual benefits, mutual trust and cooperation. In theory, it could universally adapt to the common security outlook and could also reflect the Chinese governance theory of improving oneself and making others feel safer. And in terms of its effect, it could be constructive to peace, development, cooperation, and a win-win outcome with neighboring countries and the world. Therefore, comprehensive, common, cooperative, and sustainable security put forth at the Fourth Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia is the core connotation of Version 3.0 of the new concept of security. 

The new concept of security should be underscored in the following three aspects when applying it to serve the construction of the neighborhood community of common destiny. 

First, it should aim for integral optimization. With all countries being members of the community of common destiny, their relations are intricate and any country will have a direct impact on the whole. If anything goes wrong with the community, its members will surely be affected. For example, during the global financial crisis (in 2008 and 2009), the international environment and economic situation of the neighboring countries worsened. If any member then did anything solely for its own benefits, it would not only be detrimental to the entire community but also to the member itself. This is the “all in the same boat” logic. 

Second, it should aim for accommodation for adaptability. As the world is always undergoing change, all parties must make constant adjustments to adapt. Through making adjustments and changing their policies and practices, the parties could achieve win-win outcomes amid mutual accommodations and adaptations. For example, the United States, through making adept use of its strength when the soft and hard power wanes, achieved satisfactory effects through such accommodations. But if the United States continues to stubbornly stick to the doctrine of absolute security, it will likely run into a dead end of hegemony and militarism. For another example, the new concept of security, raised by China to counter the Cold War mentality, is constructive in promoting regional stability and security, but if no new policies are implemented to make the neighbors feel safe along with its improving national strength, it will give rise to discontent and unease among the neighboring countries and the United States. 

Third, it should aim for cooperation for a win-win outcome. The principles for interaction among all parties to the community of common destiny are cooperation for win-win outcome and the evolution of a globalized society. Within the community, all countries must show mutual respect and accommodation, make concerted efforts, shoulder their responsibilities, and work hand in hand to strengthen the common interests, so that they then better defend and protect their own interests. After the end of the Cold War, the chance for full-scale wars between or among big powers has become slim, and it is safe to say that the age of the rule of the jungle has come to an end. In the contemporary world, the relations between big powers and and small countries, competition and cooperation coexist, and the international community has developed into an existence characterized by both competition and cooperation, in which they are both rivals and partners. In this era, factors driving for cooperation to achieve win-win outcomes are growing, but it must be admitted that it will be a long process for the factors to take root. 

Zhai Kun is the director of the Institute of World Political Studies under China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

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