China Center for Contemporary World Studies

The Features of Current International Security Situation
From:Translation of Dr. Xia Liping's article | 06-02-2014 | By:Dr. Xia Liping, Dean and Professor of School of Political Science & International Relations at Tongji University in Shanghai, Special Research Fellow of CCCWS visitors:3853

   Currently, international security situation is going through unprecedented, complicated and profound changes. On the one hand, peace and development remain the theme of our era and the overall situation remains stable, with global balance of power evolving in favor of the maintenance of peace and development. On the other hand, international security contentions are going through new developments, with security threats turning diversified and regional conflicts erupting one after another.


Part one The Features of Current International Security Situation


I. Global power comparison is evolving in the direction of a balanced state while international security contentions are going through new developments.

Recent years witnessed the rise of China along with a cluster of big developing countries and the rise of Asia as a whole. The gravity of the world politics as well as economy has been shifting towards Asia Pacific, which ushers the multipolarization into a new stage. The international strategic situation has also entered into a new stage as international security contentions enter into a new stage. The key question in these new stages is as follows: Will the West including the US, and the international community accept and adapt to the new situation, which is characterized by the rise of China and a cluster of developing countries? Will they allow the start-up countries to play a bigger and positive role in the world affairs so as to move forward along with the trends of multipolarization? Will China and other emerging countries adapt to and get integrated into the international system as well as regional order before contributing to a more just and fair system and order? The gives and takes in such a political game will entail a long process.

Though still the sole superpower in the world, the US has begun to feel the gap between its capacities and ambitions. China as a start-up power and the US as an established power are increasingly interdependent economically. This has become an anchor for a stable relationship between the two countries. Regional economic integration continues and leads to the interdependency of countries in relevant regions. Regional economic integration also helps to balance the relations between the member countries and the US.

In the wake of global warming and environment pollution, water resources have become a valuable asset. Countries with abundant water resources are moving upward on the world might chart.

The rivalry between big powers is becoming more complicated. The structural conflicts between China and the US are outstanding: one is a rising power while the other is an established power; one is the largest developing country while the other is the largest developed country; one is being industrialized while the other is already industrialized. Against such a backdrop, there must be some conflicts and divergences between the two. On the other hand, however, the two countries have many common interests, especially in regional security, counter-terrorism, economy, cross-border issues, etc. The economic dependency between the two is increasing. The two countries are engaged in cooperation as well as competition, dialogue as well as disputes, which constitutes the big picture of China-US relations. The US seeks to put more pressure on China while China has to take corresponding measures. The wrestling between the two is becoming intensive and complicated. 

Since the second half of 2010, the Obama administration has been pivoting to Asia Pacific, shifting the center of gravity of its global and military strategies to Asia Pacific, esp. East Asia. All this has exerted profound impact on the regional security situation.

The US rebalancing lays much emphasis on military aspect, reminding the world of the stereotype that a declining hegemonic power tends to resort to its military might for the maintenance of its dominance. The US rebalancing has also sent wrong messages to its allies and other regional countries, inciting them to make use of the US influence for individual gains in their territorial and maritime disputes with China. That may account for the increasingly complicated and tense situation in East Asia, especially around the Diaoyu Islands and in South China Sea, as well as the arms race in the whole region.

II. The coordination institutions in global economy are making progress while the construction of global governance structures and regional security institutions are comparatively lagging behind.

  The developments in global power balance are becoming complicated due to the existing structure of international system. Some US-dominated military alliances are still in existence after the Cold War while some US politicians are still possessed by the Cold War mentality in viewing the latest developments in international security and the rise of developing countries. A UN-centric global security system is far from being established.

The global industrial structure has been evolving due to the spread of multinational firms and regional economic integration, which has considerably loosened government’s grip on each country’s production structure.

All the principal capital markets are closely linked, which entails one country’s rapid and express response to developments in other countries. The currencies of countries continue to co-exist while within their respective borders, countries are to be responsible for the strength and weakness of their currencies as a token of serving their respective national interests.

With the development of high technology, especially information technology, the competition between countries has been evolving to the competition for the dominance in knowledge structure. The power gap between countries in the obtainment and enjoyment of knowledge has become increasingly salient. The changes in knowledge structure have resulted in the re-distribution of power among countries. The international system has not established a mechanism that can efficiently make the developed countries transfer carbon-reducing technology.

  Recent years witnessed the development of such global economic coordination institution as G-20. In the wake of regional economic integration, regional economic cooperation mechanism is making progress, too. In contrast, the construction of global governance structure and regional security cooperation mechanism is comparatively slow.

China has put forward the building of a new type of relations between big countries. The building of big-country relations between China and the US is the most important practice in current international relations. The evolution of global international situation in the next three decades depends, to a great extent, on the outcome of this practice. The contents of big-country relations as interpreted by China include: no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect, cooperation and win-win scenario.

During the Cold War, the base for US-China relations consisted in engaging the common enemy. Currently, the base for a new type of US-China relations is economy and security. This entanglement has both positive and negative sides.

The strategic balance between the US and USSR was based on mutually assured destruction while the new type of strategic balance between the US and China is asymmetrical, interactive and dynamic.

The new type of big-country relations between China and the US are being put to test in the Asia Pacific, with the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan being two important testing zones. There are over 90 bilateral dialogue institutions between China and the US. But that is far from enough.

One key issue is the absence of an effective multilateral security institution in Northeast Asia. One probable choice might have been the Six-Party talks, provided that it could resolve the DPRK nuclear issue.

 The US pivot to Asia Pacific lays emphasis on the strengthening of US-Japan military alliance. This has sent a wrong message to Japan, inciting it to believe that in the event of its armed conflicts with China, the US will get involved militarily. This may account for Japan’s assertive position in its confrontation with China over the Diaoyu Islands.

III. China has put forward the concept of cooperation and win-win situation, while the world’ peace and development are still being haunted by the Cold-War mentality, extreme nationalism and religious radicalism.

In recent years, China together with other emerging countries put forward the concept of cooperation and win-win scenario, which met with the Cold-War mentality of some US political, academic and military figures. In some countries, extreme nationalism and religious radicalism are on increase. Religious radicalism in some Central Asian and African countries has led to terrorism.

In Japan, extreme nationalism has caused the right-turning of this nation state, giving rise to the risk of Japan’s militarization.

Japan’s wish to be a normal state is understandable. But Japan must admit its history of aggression so as to gain the forgiveness from its neighbors, win over their respect and therefore become a normal state. The militarization of Japan is a preposterous move, which is impeding Japan from becoming a normal state and will prove dangerous to Japan itself as well as its neighbors.

IV. Non-traditional security threats such as global warming meet with differing definitions of interests by countries, which means the consequent approaches are far from being efficient.

Such non-traditional security threats as global warming have come to challenge the common interests of mankind. The differing interests among countries make it difficult for them to come to an agreement to tackle common challenges. Nation states are still the main actors in international community. Global climate and environment changes have a trans-national nature, which is at odds with the fact that nation states are the dominant actors in the global political arena. This entails the high political nature of global changes. Due to their differences in terms of geographical situation, size of territory, development level, natural resources, life styles, cultural tradition, consumer habits, political systems, values, countries have differing perceptions and policy preferences in this issue.

The rapid globalization has made one contradiction ever more salient, i.e. the tensions between the limitedness of natural resources and the excessive production as well as consumption. The inherent logic of endless expansion of production and consumption will one day stretch the Earth’s resources to their limits.

Although global changes have to do with the common interests of mankind, dealing with such changes involve the national interests of individual countries. The common interests of mankind and the national interests of countries are consistent to a certain extent and divergent in a big way. The consistency accounts for the motivation for countries to tackle global changes. The divergence implies that countries tend to put their own national interests first in dealing with global changes, unwilling to foot the bill on behalf of others.

Global changes have deep-rooted historical as well as contemporary reasons. Take global climate change for example. The total amount of carbon dioxide discharged by developed countries since Industrial Revolution in the 18th century is much larger than that discharged by developing countries since their industrialization in the second half of the 20th century. In contemporary world, the voluptuous consumption on the part of the US along with other developed countries is about to exhaust the limited natural resources at a quick pace. The per capita emission of greenhouse gas by developed countries is four times as much as China’s. It is the common duty for mankind to address climate change while there should be a differentiation of responsibilities between developing and developed countries. The particular responsibilities of the developed countries are not to be ruled out under the pretext of common duty. Nor should the duty to reduce emission by the developing countries be diluted by the differentiation.

In contemporary international affairs, countries are economically interdependent and socially interactive through various links. No country can handle all the global challenges on its own. Only through joint efforts can the international community alleviate the fundamental tensions facing mankind.

Firstly, in the face of global challenges, countries should go on with multilateralism, trying to resolve existing geopolitical issues and tensions of interests through international organizations and institutions. It is necessary to note that, just like the century in which it is born, multilateralism of the 21st century is rife with complicated and unpredictable changes, which makes it difficult to reach agreements.

Secondly, big-country coordination is to be encouraged. In a sense, G-20 is a big-country coordination mechanism in global financial and economic sectors. Big-country coordination is not to exclude small countries, but to ensure the efficiency of decision-making.

Thirdly, countries should lay more emphasis on dialogues and negotiations. In the current international political system, political power lies in the hands of many countries, which implies that there must be series of negotiations between countries. The results of these negotiations depend, to a great extent, on the domestic negotiations of some countries.

With global issues becoming increasingly acute, such political bargaining as Copenhagen Climate Conference will be more frequent. As an emerging power, China is supposed to do more in its studies of global changes and their implications for China’s national interests, making such studies a soft science subject, i.e. turning the studies from a pure natural science into an interdisciplinary subject encompassing humanities, social sciences, and political economy. In keeping with the trends in the studies of global changes, such a shift will help to develop China’s studies on global changes in the direction of applied studies of political science. In such a process, it is imperative to highlight China’s longer-term national interests, aligning national interests with the interests of mankind and providing the government with sound proposals for policy-making and international negotiations.

V. The Middle East and the Persian Gulf constitute the most volatile region, which makes the diplomatic processes stagnant, if not futile.

In addition to national tensions and religious conflicts, the Middle East and the Persian Gulf is plagued by expanding population, deteriorating environment, stagnant economy. With the involvement of external forces, this area has become a barrel of gunpowder in the true sense of the word, rife with uncertainties and unpredictable dynamics.

The year of 2013 saw the untraditional security threats on increase along with grave traditional security threats in the region. The Syrian Civil War has been turned fierce while international mediation turns out to be futile. Israel is still in confrontation with Palestine and the Arab world. The inherent national conflicts and sectarian tensions still remain acute. The tensions between Iran and Israel together with the tensions between a Shia Iran and its Sunni neighbors are becoming acute as the Iran nuclear issue remains outstanding.

It has been Israel’s longstanding policy to forestall, at all costs, its Arab neighbors as well as other Muslim neighbors from possessing nuclear weapons, so as to maintain its strategic edge backed by its nuclear weapons. Gravely concerned about Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, Israel has been spreading the word through various channels that it will launch pre-emptive strikes to neutralize Iran’s nuclear facilities. It has been a longstanding concern for the Western countries that Iran will develop nuclear weapons on the basis of its uranium enrichment program while Iran claims to have the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Iran nuclear issue has touched the bottom line of Israeli and US strategy, i.e. under no circumstances should Iran possess nuclear weapons. In recent years, the US has been hedging against and encircling Iran. The West’s concerns over Iran nuclear issue have become greater and finger-pointing is gaining strength. Nuclear crisis laced with sanctions and military strikes has been hovering over the Middle East, as imminent as the Sword of Damocles.

In 2013, Hasan Ruhani became the new President of Iran. Though the negotiations over nuclear issues face some opportunities for breakthroughs, progress is slow due to various constraints.


Part two China needs an upgraded version of its foreign strategy.


i. China needs not only to strengthen its soft power but also to learn how to employ structural power.

For the time being, there are two major imbalances

One is the rise of soft power and the insufficiency of soft power, especially in terms of innovative ideas and creating international institutions.

The second is the rise of linear power and the insufficiency of structural power. In recent decade, with China’s economic development and growth of its trade relations with other countries, China’s linear economic power has overtaken Japan and is catching up with US. But the structural power of China, i.e. the power to build multilateral security cooperation institutions is lacking.

The updated version of China’s foreign strategy should lay more emphasis on the development and employment of structural power, contributing to the establishment of East Asia multilateral security cooperation mechanism, economic cooperation mechanism, financial cooperation mechanism, China-US-Japan dialogue mechanism, etc.

ii. The coordination of China’s diplomacy with its defense modernization

The objective of China’s defense modernization is to drive fear into the minds of prospective aggressors, separatists, terrorists, and keep its neighbors and other countries assured.

China is to establish community of destiny with its neighbors as well as community of security. China is supposed to make a success of the establishment of a new type of relations between big countries. As an ascending power, China is supposed to explore the positive energy and avoid security dilemma in its engagement with the US in maintaining the relationship characterized by both cooperation and competition, in achieving the goal of modernization and national reunification, and in the building of a fair and just international economic as well as political system.

iii. China is to establish mechanisms with its neighbors for the control and management of divergences, disputes, and crises, including those over the issue of Diaoyu Islands and South China Sea.