Original Lecture: “Chinese National Security and International Relations,” Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, 29 October 2010.
Summary: An essential first step to understanding Chinese national security imperatives from the outside is to shed stereotypes and preconceived notions of China as a monolithic, monochromatic or well-ordered unitary entity. As a country of over a billion people, politics and implementation issues are incredibly complex in China and Indians should if anything, be able to better grasp this complexity.
Chinese national security policy is influenced by a number of internal issues, of which history and strategic culture are important variables, together with the overwhelming priority that Chinese leaders accord to maintaining political and social stability and thereby, their legitimacy and grip on power. Maintaining economic growth is a key national security consideration in this respect which then has implications for the way China looks at its external relations. Thus, traditional security issues such as its relations with Taiwan or non-traditional security issues such as energy security can both be affected by internal considerations. Meanwhile, China’s security policymaking process displays great complexity in terms of actors and interest groups ranging from the Communist Party, the PLA, and the MoFA to the state-owned enterprises and provincial governments. What is more, there are frequent conflicts of interest among the various players.
China has certain key concepts that it uses frequently in its external discourse that have specific meanings and need to be understood carefully. These include among others such concepts as ‘core interests’ – interests that China will go to war over – and the three ‘evils’ – extremism, terrorism and separatism. There is also a changing terminology used to describe China’s intentions such as ‘peaceful rise’ / ‘peaceful development’ / ‘harmonious world,’ each of which has different emphases. Finally, how China implements these concepts in practice is a different issue altogether.