New thinking in China’s national security strategy

China’s leadership has formulated its national security strategy for the next 20 years. There is remarkable continuity in China’s current foreign and security strategies. There is, however, also something new in them.

China’s leadership has tried to put forward some creative and new concepts, which will become theories for guiding further economic and political reforms in China, and will lead China to further integrate itself into international society and become a responsible power in the world, especially with regard to its neighbours. Since China began its policy of reform and opening up at the end of 1970s, it has been making great progress in integrating itself into international economic and political mechanisms. The more closely China integrates itself into international mechanisms, the more willing it will be to play a responsible role in the international community.

In recent years, the Chinese economy has been developing steadily. If China can maintain the pace of economic development, it will be among the major powers in the world by the middle of the twenty-first century. Whether China can become a responsible great power or not will depend on internal and external factors. Those factors can be divided into subjective ones and objective ones, among which international mechanisms will play an important role. The world will benefit from the peaceful rise of China as a responsible power in the international community.

Three major tasks for China in the twenty-first century

In the twenty-first century, there are the three major tasks for China: to propel its drive for modernisation; to achieve national reunification; and to safeguard world peace and promote common development. [1]

Unlike China’s three historical tasks in the twentieth century, as put forth by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, the three major tasks for this century make no mention of ‘anti-hegemony’. The new formulation indicates that China has focused on safeguarding world peace and promoting common development in its foreign and security policies. This does not mean that China will not oppose hegemony. In the future, if a country pursues hegemonic policies or actions, China will oppose them. It does indicate, however, that in China’s current political dictionary, ‘hegemony’ does not refer to a particular country, such as the United States.

Furthermore, the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese Government declared again that China would never seek hegemony and would never pursue expansion. Furthermore, China has constructively put forward the concept of the establishment of a harmonious world with lasting peace and universal prosperity as its long-term objective. At the same time, China has incorporated the concept of ‘people first’ into its diplomacy.

A period of important strategic opportunity

The first two decades of the twenty-first century will be a period of important strategic opportunity for China. During this period, China will focus its attention on building a prosperous society in a comprehensive manner. The objectives of China’s modernisation are to quadruple the gross domestic product (GDP) of 2000 by 2020, and to become a mid-level developed country by 2050. In order to achieve these objectives, China needs a peaceful and stable international security environment beneficial for its economic development.

Although there are still some regional wars and armed conflicts in the world, such as the war in Iraq, peace and development remain the main themes of the era. At the same time, the trends of multipolarisation in the world and democracy in international relations have been playing an important role in restricting hegemony and power politics. These conditions will be conducive to the maintenance of a peaceful environment in the long-term, internationally and in China’s periphery.

Keeping pace with global trends and safeguarding the common interests of all mankind

Due to economic globalisation, the common interests of all mankind have become more evident. China is ready to work with the international community to boost global multipolarisation, promote the harmonious coexistence of diverse forces and maintain stability in the international community. China will continue to improve and develop relations with developed countries. Proceeding from the fundamental interests of all countries concerned, China will broaden the converging points of common interests and properly settle differences on the basis of its Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, notwithstanding differences in social systems and ideologies. China has been cooperating with the United States and other countries in anti-terrorism efforts and in dealing with regional security problems, such as the North Korean nuclear crisis.

New concepts of security featuring mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination

Since the end of the Cold War, China has changed its security concepts greatly according to the new international situation and the interests of the Chinese people, as well as the aspirations of the peoples of the world for peace and development. China thinks that in order to obtain lasting peace, it is imperative to abandon the Cold War mentality, cultivate a new concept of security and seek a new way to safeguard peace. China holds that countries should trust one another, work together to maintain security and to resolve disputes through dialogue and cooperation, and should not resort to or threaten to use force. It has been proved that the new concepts of security are in keeping with the trends of the era and have great vitality.

China holds that the core of the new security concept should be mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination. [2] The new security concept should also be the guide for resolving disputes in international security.

The new security concepts China has adopted include the following.

  1. The concept of ‘mutual security’. During the Cold War, the concept of ‘zero-sum games’ played the most important role in international politics. With the end of the Cold War, countries should accept the concept of ‘mutual security’ because of the changed situation. We should oppose any country building its absolute security on the insecurity of others.

  1. The concept of cooperative security. At present, all countries are facing many non-traditional security threats or transnational problems, such as environmental problems, global warming, drug trafficking, terrorism, proliferation of WMD, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), HIV/AIDS, and so on. They should make common efforts and cooperate to deal with these challenges.

  1. The concept of comprehensive security rather than military security. Since the end of the Cold War, although geopolitical, military security and ideological factors still play important roles in some politicians’ minds, the role of economic factors is becoming more prominent in international relations. Thus, all countries should make great efforts to settle divergences and disputes between them through peaceful means.

Cementing China’s friendly ties with its neighbours and building good-neighbourly relations and partnerships with them

China regards this policy as an important part of its effort to maintain a long-term stable and peaceful international security environment. China will step up regional cooperation and increase exchanges and cooperation with surrounding countries.

[1] Documents of the 16th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, 2002, Foreign Language Press, Beijing, China, p. 2.

[2] China’s document on its position regarding New Security Concepts, put forward by the Chinese delegation at the meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum, 31 July 2002, Seri Begawan, Brunei (People’s Daily, Beijing, 2 August 2002, p. 3).