China’s Global Security Initiative

The “Global Security Initiative” (GSI) announced by Xi Jinping in April 2022 was finally elaborated nine months later in the form of a concept note after the start of his unprecedented third mandate as the leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and as the Supreme leader of China. The initiative is supposed to present a new plan for a “common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security.” Instead of a new plan and vision, the GSI seems repackaged from Xi’s speeches on a global Sinocentric order at the Conference on Interaction and confidence building measures in Asia (CICA) and other past statements.

On the surface the basic principles of the GSI include China’s offer of itself as an honest broker in conflicts while respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations and upholding the principles of the United Nations Charter. Noble ambitions which are not followed through by actual Chinese policy. In the South China sea, China is a regional bully which ignores the interests of Vietnam and Philippines in the South China sea with the People’s Liberation Army and the Coast guard encroaching on local fishermen’s activities. China also inhibits these small countries from oil exploration in their own territorial seas due to such intimidation with also illegal military installations on artificial islands aimed at absolute control and insecurity. The same insecurity which China offers to protect against in the GSI. China does not respect the UN Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) in the South China sea, neither does it heed to the 2016 ruling of the arbitral tribunal. Such unilateral actions show its contempt for the UN Charter and UN entities when they are contrary to China’s needs. Another point in the GSI that China doesn’t respect in practice where it seeks to replace UN institutions with those that it can control or dominate. An example is its attempt to control ASEAN and its consensus-based decisions. Two years where ASEAN has been deadlocked in its 56-year history were 2012 and 2016 when the declaration mentioned the South China sea. ASEAN was unable to issue a statement due to veto by Cambodia, a close Chinese ally.

According to the concept paper, China also wants to build international platforms and mechanisms for exchange and cooperation to address challenges in areas like counter terrorism, cyber and information security and bio security.

China had put forward a Global Initiative on Data Security a few years back which made a lot of news. But what does not make it to the news often is how Beijing backed hackers have for years been stealing data from a number of countries. According to a cyber security firm called TeamT5, government and military units in South and Southeast Asia have become a common target for China’s hackers. In the second half of 2022, there was a 20 per cent increase in China linked cyber-attacks against Southeast Asian countries compared to 2021. Countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia and India have all had to face increasing frequency of cyber- attacks over the past few years.

Besides cyber-attacks, sensitive data of many countries is also at risk of finding its way to China. Let us not forget the case of African Union where from 2012 to 2017, sensitive data from the servers of AU headquarters in Addis Ababa found its way every night to servers in Shanghai. AU officials were unaware until this data theft was revealed in 2017. The incident made it to the news only in 2018 revealing the lengths to which China would go to spy on countries and organizations it seeks to manipulate for its own interests.

Coming to addressing the challenges in areas of counter terrorism, China practices the placing of technical holds and blocks on listing of terrorists by the UNSC 1267 Committee. Between June and October 2022, China placed technical hold on listing of at least five terrorists, undermining not only the multilateral resolve to combat terrorism but also the legitimacy of a UN body. Similarly on biosecurity, we all know how important it is to find the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic so that all of humanity can benefit and the world does not have to face a shock of this scale again. The investigations into the origin of the pandemic are, however, held up because China failed to cooperate and provide unrestricted access to the WHO team that was given this task. What is even more disturbing is that China systematically destroyed data that could have been useful for the investigation.

The list of such examples can be endless but let us look at one last aspect. The paper claims that ‘Humanity is an indivisible security community. Security of one country should not come at the expense of that of other.’ But recent revelations show that the principle of indivisible security means that China’s security cannot be compromised even at the expense of that of other countries. According to a report in September and December 2022 by human rights organization Safeguard Defenders, China operates a network of over 100 overseas police stations based on bilateral security arrangements and joint policing initiatives to monitor, harass and repatriate Chinese citizens and silence protestors against China. Several countries are now investigating how China managed to set up these police stations without their knowledge and what loopholes were missed out in the bilateral security cooperation agreements they signed with China.