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Thoughts on Beijing Xiangshan Forum

Dec 05, 2023
  • He Wenping

    Senior Research Fellow, Charhar Institute and West Asia and Africa Studies Institute of the China Academy of Social Sciences

The 10th Beijing Xiangshan Forum, which took place from Oct 29 to 31, stands out as a prominent international multilateral forum hosted by China. This high-level international security forum was held against a backdrop of a complex and unpredictable global security environment.

Whether addressing the Russia-Ukraine crisis, ongoing for nearly 20 months, or the recent escalation between Israel and Hamas, the international community, especially major countries and those directly affected, must come together to form a consensus and identify solutions. The complete security of any one nation or party cannot be predicated on the total insecurity of another. Thus, the theme of “Common Security, Lasting Peace” for the Xiangshan Forum is more than an ideal. It is an objective that the international community should diligently work toward.

The forum boasted an extensive agenda and a diverse array of participants reflecting its inclusivity. Participants included 99 official delegations, 19 defense ministers and 14 military chiefs of staff from different nations, along with representatives of six international bodies, experts and observers. Attendance exceeded 1,800 — a record for the forum. It is noteworthy that Cynthia Xanthi Carras, China country director in the office of the U.S. undersecretary of defense, led the American delegation, marking the first U.S. military participation in the forum. From Russia, Defense Minister Sergei Kuzhugetovich Shoigu, who attended the ninth Beijing Xiangshan Forum in 2019, not only returned for this edition but also carried out an official visit to China.

In terms of agenda setting, attendees discussed major countries’ responsibility and global security cooperation, the role of developing countries in global security. Asia-Pacific security architecture and development. They also delved deeply into pressing issues such as security trends and the configuration of the security situation in Northeast Asia, ASEAN centrality in regional security, new security architecture in the Middle East, reconfiguring peace in Europe, preventing and managing military maritime crises, nuclear risk and global security, security in artificial intelligence and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief through international military cooperation.

I also had the honor of hosting a small open seminar on the role of African nations in mediating and fostering dialogue on the Ukraine crisis.

Developing countries played a key role at the forum, which served as a platform giving voice to the seldom-heard. Distinct from the Singapore Shangri-La Dialogue, which predominantly features high-ranking military personnel from developed nations, the Beijing Xiangshan Forum, established in 2006, has always embraced a spirit of equality, openness, inclusivity and mutual learning. It is dedicated to fostering regional security cooperation and enabling developing countries to collectively articulate their security concerns.

Delegates noted that while there are many developing nations, they often represent a silent majority when it comes to international security issues. They require platforms and opportunities to voice their positions, which is essential for steering the international order toward greater fairness and reasonableness. As expressed by Lora Saalman, a senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the Beijing Xiangshan Forum offers a platform that presents a diversity of perspectives and provides a chance to “listen to perspectives that are rarely heard.”

During the forum, representatives from developing countries had more opportunities to speak out. In the four plenary sessions, there were 22 speaking guests in total. Excluding the four from international or regional organizations, the majority hailed from developing countries.

Nigeria’s Minister of Defense Mohammed Badaru Abubakar said, “I have brought with me not just the views of Nigeria but also the collective voice of Africa.” He noted that Africa has long been at the forefront of numerous security challenges and that a stable environment is essential for the continent’s development.

Indeed, the diverse tapestry of our world necessitates a chorus of diverse voices. The term “international community” should not mean a handful of developed nations, nor should “international opinion” be monopolized by media outlets like CNN and the BBC. At a time when the global security landscape is confronted with severe challenges, there should be an increasing number of platforms like the Beijing Xiangshan Forum that act as conduits for sharing values and ideas on the security establishment and conflict resolution — between Eastern and Western nations, between developed and developing countries and across the global North and South.

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