David Shambaugh: China and Global Governance: The Security Sphere

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China’s capacities to contribute to meeting global security challenges is inextricably interlinked with its own conceptualization of its growing global role as well as the world’s growing expectations of it. In other words, security is simply a subset of the broader question of China’s contributions to global governance more generally. In fact, the security sphere is one of the most challenging areas for China—simply because its capabilities are more limited than in other areas. China possesses greater capacities to contribute to global financial and economic stability and growth; to development assistance in developing countries; to global climate change through its own industrial and consumer growth; to global public health through its domestic as well as international actions; to global innovation and technological development through its indigenous innovation; and to global energy consumption through its own appetite for natural resources and investments in new energy technologies.

In all these areas, China’s capacities to influence global patterns and global governance are greater than in the security area. Yet, in all of these areas, the degree and intensity of China’s global involvement and contributions will be heavily influenced by a combination of external expectations and internal debates.

One thing is certain: the international community—particularly the developed countries in North America and Europe—will expect a continually growing Chinese contribution to international challenges and global governance commensurate with China’s new power, size, and growing role. In recent years, American administrations have called on China to be an “international stakeholder” and “responsible power,” while the European Union has repeatedly called on China to increase its multilateralism and contributions to global governance.

China can, of course, help its own case for global multilateral security cooperation through continually enhancing its military transparency, acting in non-provocative ways towards its neighbors (including Taiwan), and through continually expanded participation in multilateral and bilateral peacekeeping activities and security forums.

China has, in fact, become quite active in addressing “non-traditional” security threats in recent years, and is making a positive contribution in several areas. To its credit, China has become involved in recent years in disaster relief operations (the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami, the 2005 Pakistani and 2010 Haiti earthquakes, the 2007 Philippines typhoon); and China is involved in fighting organized crime, drug smuggling, and terrorism; and it has been active in controlling the spread of pandemic diseases.

Increased Chinese contributions to disaster relief, poverty alleviation, public health, and a broad range of other “non-traditional” security challenges/threats will also continue to gain Beijing international prestige, while making tangible contributions. Even the People’s Liberation Army now frequently discusses “military operations other than war” (MOOTW)—code words for the non-traditional security agenda. China already is quietly contributing to intelligence sharing and in the area of counter-terrorism; monitoring financial institutions for money laundering; strengthening controls against human and drug trafficking; and cracking down on organized international crime networks. In the latter areas, China is an increasingly active member of INTERPOL. This whole area of “non-traditional security” will not only continue to grow in importance on the international security agenda—but China’s contributions in these areas can also be expected to improve and increase.

Very positively, China has joined an expanding number of UN peacekeeping operations (2155 PKO forces in 12 countries). This ranks China as the 14th largest national contributor of personnel (out of 119 contributing countries), but first among permanent members of the UN Security Council. Over time, since 1990, China has contributed more than 12,000 personnel to UN PKO missions. These are mainly in the form of logistical, engineering, transport, or medical personnel—although China has also contributed military combat forces, paramilitary People’s Armed Police, military observers, civilian police, and land mine clearing personnel. Notably, China is a contributing member to the multinational naval to the anti-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia.

All in all, China’s contributions to United Nations Peacekeeping Operations have been a definite “net plus” for the UN, for China, and the recipient countries. It is a tangible — perhaps the most tangible — indication of China’s contribution to global governance. China’s overseas development assistance (ODA) is also a significant contribution.

Thus, China’s global security involvement has grown in some (non-traditional) areas, and has been very positive. China has also been active in working with other powers and in the United Nations Security Council on the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs. But, in other areas, China’s participation remains quite limited.

In the end, however, all of China’s involvement in global security will be shaped by its own calculations of its national interests.

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