Chinas new multilateralism in a globalized world

Essay, 2008

12 Pages, Grade: 1,8


Chinas new multilateralism in a globalized world


During the last two decades China gained rising influence in the international environment. Since this rise is observed by many countries with concerns, Chinese politicians are eager to promote a “less confrontational, more sophisticated, more confident, and at times, more constructive approach towards regional and global affairs” (Medeiros & Fravel, 2003). In other words, China faces the difficulty to become a powerful player in the international system on the one side and to calm the concerns of other nations at the same time on the other side. Therefore, Chinese politicians recognized the importance of multilateral cooperative mechanisms and the shortcoming of bilateral or unilateral approaches to deal with international issues (Wang, 2000, p. 479). Therefore it is not surprisingly that Beijing increased its efforts to participate in international multilateral institutions in order to create win-win situations (Mingquan, 2005). However, in contrast to many western approaches to multilateralism, China emphasizes the principle of sovereignty and non-interference in domestic issues by demanding the acceptance of different political, military and economic domestic systems (Wang, 2000, p. 479). This evolution of foreign policy also accompanies the growing of power and influence and therefore advanced capabilities to safeguard national interests in international relations. Since the security challenges in a post Cold-War era have broadened, the upcoming “great power” China (Kim, 2003, p. 37) extended its engagement in international institutions and multilateral agreements.

Hence, in the following this paper will argue that China’s new multilateralism is subordinated to Beijing’s security interests in a changing globalized world. In order to support this thesis, central multilateral engagements will be analyzed and it will be argued that China’s new approach to international relations utilizes multilateral arrangements to pursue a cooperative security concept which aims at stabilizing of the regional and international environment as well as the combat against new security threats. On the other hand, it will be argued that Beijing’s engagement in multilateral bodies aims at the provision of economic security and therefore is significant contribution to secure and stabilize the ongoing rise of the fastest growing economy in the world. Furthermore this paper will analyze underlying incentives for Beijing’s engagement in these multilateral bodies.

Cooperative Security

By recognizing that „since the end of cold war, major and profound changes has taken place in the international situation [and] the world is moving deeper towards multipolarity and economic globalization” (Zemin, 1999) China induced fundamental changes of its security policy. Instead of the traditional Chinese approach to ensure core survival concerns through bilateral arrangements (Xinbo, 2000, p. 2), Beijing now accepts the importance of a cooperative security concept that includes the multilateral cooperation with other nations and international institutions. During the late 1990’s, the concept of cooperative security became “the preferred mode of security cooperation in the world” (Mihalka, 2005, p. 114). In an era of globalization, defined as “processes through which states are criss-crossed and undermined by transnational actors” (Beck, 2000, p. 101) it is important to recognize that sovereign states remain the pivotal actors in international relations (United Nations, 2004, p. 1). Together with non-state actors and international institutions, states face a changing global threat situation that requires a multilateral cooperative strategy since “today’s threats recognize no national boundaries, are connected and must be addressed at the global and regional, as well as the national level” (United Nations, 2004, p. 1). Therefore in the face of threats such as inter-state conflicts, terrorism or transnational crime “no state, no matter how powerful, can by its own efforts alone make itself invulnerable to today’s threats. Every state requires the cooperation of other states to make itself secure. It is in every state’s interest accordingly, to cooperate with other states to address their most pressing threats because doing so will maximize the chances of reciprocal cooperation to address its own threat priorities” (United Nations, 2004, p. 16). Two strands of experience have shaped the Chinese endorsement of cooperative security both are defined by the changing international environment after the end of cold war.

First, for China the significance of a multilateral security cooperation became obvious in the early 1990’s when the former Soviet Union collapsed and several Central Asian countries declared themselves independent (Bailes, Dunay & Guang, 2007, p. 4). Since there already had been unsolved border issues with the Soviet Union, Beijing now faced the difficulty to deal with five successor states instead of only the USSR. Therefore in the mid 1990’s, the PRC initiated a comprehensive approach to find a solution for these border disputes with its new neighbours Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Russia, a process that was composed by bilateral and multilateral arrangements that resulted in the establishment of the Shanghai Five Forum (SFF) (Yahuda Michael, 2003, p. 191). This permanent informal multilateral body was meant as an instrument to advance the construction of mutual confidence and trust as well as a mechanism to prevent prospective border conflicts. In 1996, driven by the awareness that “they all have more to lose by inter-state rivalry or competition than they have to gain by any short-term political or economic achievements” (Fairbanks et al., Januar 2001, p. 2) the members of the SFF signed the first multilateral treaties in Central Asia (Akiner, 2001, p. 197). However, the real success of this process was the establishment of regular meetings on governmental and ministerial levels (ibid.). Moreover, the SFF represented the construction of “a set of rules for multilateral interaction in the region such as more formal rules for conflict management and conflict resolution” (Svänström, 2004, p. 45). As the cooperation on conflict prevention turned out to be successful, “broader areas of common concerns were added to the original agenda” (Akiner, 2001, p. 197). Therefore, Beijing promoted the further instutionalisation of the Shanghai Five Forum (Chung, 2006, p. 5), thus in 2001 the former informal Shanghai Five Forum was transformed into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). This formal regional security body represents “the first multi-lateral security organization largely initiated and promoted by China” (Chung, 2006, p. 5) and has the objection to strengthen “mutual trust and good-neighbourly friendship among the member states; encouraging effective cooperation among the member states in political, economic and trade, scientific and technological, cultural, educational, energy, communications, environment and other fields; devoting themselves jointly to preserving and safeguarding regional peace, security and stability; and establishing a democratic, fair and rational new international political and economic order” (Shanghai Cooperation Organization, 2001). China’s commitment to the SCO became even more obvious when the former Chinese Prime Minister Jiang Zemin formulated the basic principles of the SCO which are “mutual trust, mutual benefits, equality, consultation, respect to different civilisations and to common prosperity” (Zemin, 1.06.2001). Furthermore, China has become the largest financial contributor to the SCO as well as the pivotal promoter of economic and cultural cooperation in Central Asia (Guang, 2007).

However, it is assumed that the underlying reason for China’s engagement in the SCO is driven by Beijing’s quest for “the cooperation of Central Asian governments in reducing the threat of Muslim Uighur separatism in Xinjiang province” (Chung, 2006, p. 5). Thus it is not surprisingly that the first signed document of the SCO is the “Shanghai Cooperation Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism, and Extremism” states that “joint efforts by the Parties within the framework of this convention are an effective form of combating terrorism, separatism and extremism” (ibid.) Nonetheless, the SCO became an effective multilateral body in Central Asia, that served Chinese conventional security interests by gaining support to combat the domestic threat in Xinjiang province with reduction of regional tensions through the construction of mutual trust and confidence with neighbouring Central Asian countries.


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Chinas new multilateralism in a globalized world
Macquarie University
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MSc. M.A. Robert Fiedler (Author), 2008, Chinas new multilateralism in a globalized world, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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