Chinese Perceptions of Traditional and Nontraditional Security Threats
Authored by Ms Susan L. Craig.
To understand the motivations and decisions of China’s leadership and to behave in a manner so that we can influence them, we must try to understand the world as China does. This research is an attempt to do so by examining the writings and opinions of China’s scholars, journalists and leaders--its “influential elite.” China has a comprehensive concept of national security that includes not only defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity, but continuing its economic and social development and maintaining its international stature. The two main types of threats to China’s national security are traditional and nontraditional. The United States, Japan, and India are traditional threats, considered willing and able to endanger all three components of China’s national security. While military containment is a concern, the possibility for economic and diplomatic containment from any or all of these countries is more worrisome. Even more troublesome are nontraditional threats. Military deterrence and diplomatic skill have successfully managed traditional threats to date, but these are insufficient for overcoming nontraditional threats. An examination of China’s social and economic disparities, environmental degradation, and energy insecurity demonstrates that to overcome nontraditional threats, China’s leadership must not only look outward in efforts to foster cooperation, they must also look inward and make serious internal reforms.
In order to begin to understand the motivations and decisions of China’s leadership, and in order to behave in a manner such that we can influence them, we must try to understand the world as China does. This research is an attempt to do so by examining the writings and opinions of China’s scholars, journalists, and leaders—its influential elite. It will show that China has a comprehensive concept of national security that includes not only defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity, but continuing its economic and social development and maintaining its international stature.
There are two main types of threats to China’s national security: traditional and nontraditional. Traditional threats can be characterized loosely as threats to a nation emanating from other nations and involving a military component. While the most talkedabout threat to China’s territory is a declaration of independence by Taiwan, the influential elite actually find this possibility unlikely. The focus is therefore on the few countries considered both capable of and willing to endanger all three of China’s components of national security: sovereignty, economic development, and international stature. The United States, Japan, and India have significant ideological, historical, or territorial disagreements with China and possess the military, economic, and/or international diplomatic means to go to battle over such differences. While China’s influential elite are concerned about a direct military confrontation with the United States, Japan, and India, they are far more concerned about the possibility of containment efforts by any—or all—of these countries. The threat of containment, however, is less of a military threat and more of a diplomatic, political, and economic one. The influential elite also express concern over the fluctuating, unpredictable, and seemingly unstable nature of the democratic process in all of these countries.
Even more troublesome to China’s security environment are nontraditional threats. While military deterrence and diplomatic skill have managed traditional threats successfully to date, they are insufficient for overcoming nontraditional threats. Such threats, while never precisely defined by the influential elite, are considered to transcend national boundaries, go beyond the military sphere, are unpredictable and/ or unexpected, have both internal and external elements and ramifications, and are frequently interwoven with traditional security threats. There is an array of nontraditional threats facing China: bird flu, terrorism, proliferation, drug trafficking, AIDS, and piracy, to name a few. The focus of this monograph is on three nontraditional threats: economic and social disparities within China, environmental degradation, and energy insecurity.
At least three conclusions can be reached from an examination of these nontraditional threats. First, China’s leadership is very concerned about all of them as demonstrated by the extent of public rhetoric voiced and the policies implemented. Second, while the leadership is very vocal and active in addressing these threats, scholars offer surprisingly little analysis of them, at least publicly. This absence of analysis or recommendations is striking, given scholarly consensus that nontraditional threats endanger national security more than traditional ones. This may be due to the third conclusion: China’s central leadership is largely unable to implement its policy priorities. Mitigating nontraditional threats therefore requires serious internal reforms. China will need to strengthen its social safety net, judicial system, and mechanisms for resolving public concerns. It will need to become more flexible so as to be better able to respond in times of crisis. It will need to more effectively enforce penalties for corruption and pollution. China’s nontraditional threats are more menacing than traditional ones because they require China’s leadership not only to look outward in efforts to foster cooperation, but also to look inward and make serious internal reforms as well.
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