Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Global Security Initiative seeks to supplant the U.S.-led order, and it is gaining traction in the Global South. “There is a sense among developing countries that the international security order isn’t working that well for them,” says USIP’s Carla Freeman. “But none of these countries want to be forced to choose between the U.S. and China.”

U.S. Institute of Peace experts discuss the latest foreign policy issues from around the world in On Peace, a brief weekly collaboration with SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124.

Laura Coates: Glad that we're joined now by Carla Freeman, a senior expert for the China program at the United States Institute of Peace. She specializes in China's foreign policy, China and nontraditional security issues, and also U.S.-China relations. She joins us now, Carla Freeman, welcome. Good morning, how are you?

Carla Freeman: Good morning. Great to join you.

Laura Coates: I'm glad you're here. Thank you for doing so. Listen, we are a year after now, of course, the Global Security Initiative with China, remind our audience, what exactly is that?

Carla Freeman: Well, we're all still trying to figure it out, actually, but it was announced, as you said, about a year ago by Xi Jinping at the Boao Forum, which is Asia's version of the World Economic Forum. It's a vision for a new security order that China is pushing that would replace the current U.S. led approach to global security. And it's also a framework for China's own policy initiatives and in the area of security. So, it's also a sort of campaign that China's engaged in now, to push a new approach to security, it's been very critical of the current security order.

Laura Coates: There's something about that it's called the six commitments and the GSI apparently rests on these principles that Beijing is labeling as such. These include security concepts that Xi has long promoted, including comprehensive security, common security, indivisible security, obviously, the operative word here would be security. What are these six commitments? Do they have some impact on our own relations with China?

Carla Freeman: Well, they're a very different vision of security than the concept that the U.S. and the West, and indeed, the world has had for many decades, because they really have the kind of Chinese characteristics. A comprehensive security, for example, is an idea that Xi Jinping has really pushed since he has been in power for about the past decade, really, linking internal and external security. Common security means aligning security programs across countries, the way that you approach your legal system, and so on. And then interestingly, indivisible security that was really a concept used during the period of détente between the West and the Soviet Union, that has been appropriated by Putin, interestingly, to justify his aggression against Ukraine. China uses that term to mean that in a regional context, in particular, that the security of a state, any state in a region is inseparable from the security of other states. In any case, these are really unique, very distinctive concepts of security that China proposes would replace the need for the kinds of hub and spoke alliance relationships that the United States has rested global security on, and would eliminate the security dilemma because in theory, everybody would be working commonly to address their own security needs, and therefore there wouldn't be the kind of what China calls the block politics, the competition among countries. The challenge is that this global security initiative is put forward by China as an alternative to the current order. And thus, it sets up a kind of, it acts to reinforce the competition between the U.S. and China.

Laura Coates: Is there buy in, I mean, is the GSI gaining traction with other countries in terms of that positioning? Because I know that of course, the GSI campaign has begun to intensify as attacks on the U.S. and the established U.S. led global security order. Is there disruption on the horizon? Are people aligning more and more on this philosophy?

Carla Freeman: Well, it's just the beginning. China reports that dozens of countries have signed on to the global security initiative, but it's not clear how much actual buy in countries have, but I think there is a sense among, especially in the developing world, that the current international security order isn't working as well. And so, China's picked this moment to push this new initiative because first of all, many countries in the world are dealing, were not happy with the global response to COVID. And after that, the war in Ukraine has imposed some complications for many countries not least, had impact on food security, a whole array of issues for the developing world. So, there's a sense that among countries almost 85% of the world's population lives in the developing world, that the current security order isn't working all that well for them. So, this could get traction. I think the danger is none of these countries really wants to have to choose between the U.S. and China. And the danger is that this will become again, it will reinforce this competition between the U.S. and China. And that is something that could just increase insecurity rather than improve security around the world.

Laura Coates: How should the U.S. be responding?

Carla Freeman: The United States has, I think the G7 statement in some ways, just was released, is it lays out a good response, which is we want to uphold the current order resting on the United Nations principles that include a universal human right, and we want to make sure that existing multilateral organizations feature prominently in the global security order. And also the U.S. is acting in the G7 context and needs to do this and in every context, multilaterally approaching the world through multilateral fora, the Global Security Initiative, as laid out by China in a position paper in February really does promote what some people call Sino centric, multilaterals that is groupings where China plays a leading role which are not the groupings that have existed for decades and have undergirded the global security order that we have today.

Laura Coates: Really important to have this conversation and follow along. Thank you so much.


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