Is China’s Global Security Initiative Against US-led Alliance System?

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In April 2022, President Xi Jinping revealed the Global Security Initiative (GSI), drafting China’s overarching regulations for managing global defence and security matters. China seeks to expand exchanges and cooperation in the region, which is evident through measures to expand university-level military and police academies. In addition, China has comprehensive, extensive security ties with Southeast Asian countries. These efforts have sparked geopolitical anxieties about China’s increasing regional security role.

A dominant description is that China’s counterterrorism under the GSI will see Beijing proffer a new security architecture to contest the U.S.-led alliance system. Such a security architecture could boost the export of China’s security know-how, advance new models for global security governance, and legitimise its domestic security standard. However, this state-centric view ignores that China’s counterterrorism involvement in Southeast Asia often adjusts to changes in the regional threat landscape and domestic political developments. 

While Southeast Asian countries are generally careful about the GSI, they place more importance on counterterrorism cooperation with China due to their security and political interests. In separate, changes in the regional danger landscape, variations in political regime style, and the need for Southeast Asian leaders to cement their domestic legality have driven Southeast Asia’s receptivity to China’s counterterrorism efforts.

First, Southeast Asia’s varying threat landscape has affected China’s initiatives. Over the last decade, the regional threat landscape moved from one centred around al-Qaeda to one focused on al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, especially with the emergence of Southeast Asia as a critical focus for the latter’s plans. In an address in April 2014, Xi referred to the “interlocking” nature of threats, suggesting that external and internal threats to China’s security are inseparably linked. 

In counterterrorism, changes in threat perception have coincided with an improved exposure of China’s economic arrangements in the region. In 2015, China’s counterterrorism law started to permit the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to operate overseas counterterrorism operations. The subsequent 2017 Marawi Siege by the ISIS-linked Maute group helped to deepen. 

Philippines-China counterterrorism cooperation. Under President Rodrigo Duterte, China committed to providing the Philippines with a counterterrorism donation of RMB 150 million. During the Marawi Siege, Chinese partners supported the Philippine military’s urban fight against ISIS fighters. In the wake of the blockade, Chinese and Filipino firms created a consortium to rehabilitate Marawi City.

Resemblances in political regime type or shared security relations with China also play a role in counterterrorism cooperation between China and Southeast Asian host countries. Countries that prioritise national security over human rights are more likely to engage in joint counterterrorism operations with China. In a military-run state like Myanmar, Chinese companies have provided capacity-building indicators to manage social and political instability within their borders. The military council has deployed Chinese technologies to surveil the population through facial recognition cameras, data managing systems, and control centres. 

The 2015 Erawan Shrine bombing in Bangkok, which showed a nexus between transnational human smuggling networks and militant Uyghur groups, also caused the Thai government to cooperate more closely with China on counterterrorism training and capacity building.

Third, the demand for Southeast Asian leaders to cement their domestic rightfulness has shaped variations in their reaction to Chinese pressure to deport Uyghurs in the region. Since 2009, many Uyghurs have escaped Urumqi via Pakistan and Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, and onward to Turkey. China has put stress on these countries to deport refugees, considering them as dissidents or part of broader extremist networks. 

The range of reactions by Southeast Asian governments—from ambivalence to sustain to resistance—indicates the mobilisation strength of domestic components in shaping the consequences of Southeast Asian governments’ perspective on the Uyghur extradition matter. 

For example, the pushback by nongovernmental organisations and civil society activities in the Muslim-majority Indonesia is apparent in the calls by groups like Muhammadiyah and Nadhatul Ulama that have been frankly critical of Beijing’s perspective toward the Uyghurs. Both of these groups have expressed concerns about the rights of Uyghurs, considering them as innocent refugees. In 2018, Malaysia declared that it would not deport eleven Uyghurs released from detention centres and would send them to Turkey rather than return them to China.

China’s counterterrorism efforts could alter under the GSI, primarily as China seeks to raise the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor into Afghanistan. Under the GSI framework, China’s counterterrorism strategy in Afghanistan emphasises respect for Afghanistan’s internal affairs, inclusive governance, approval for humanitarian, refugee and anti-narcotics agendas, and reconstruction measures. 

Moreover, China’s initiatives in Pakistan could set a precedent for increased steps to institutionalise cross-border counterterror security talks to ensure Belt and Road Initiative projects in the region. With advanced development finance and direct investments in the Global South, Chinese stakes have increasingly become entrenched in the political, social , and security contexts in which they operate.

To summarise, the state-centric chronology —that China’s counterterrorism partnership with Southeast Asian countries through the GSI allows Chinese security actors to guarantee overseas investments, expand its extraterritorial reach to safeguard Chinese nationals, and expand its domestic counterterrorism measures abroad—is an oversimplified structure. China has been increasing the use of global police liaisons, intelligence-sharing agencies, and bilateral extradition treaties.

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