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  • Chinese Visions of the Asian Political-Security Order
  • Feng Zhang (bio)

Under President Xi Jinping's leadership, China has developed a newfound conviction to articulate and build its own vision of regional and international order. This conviction is often shrouded in the vagueness and ellipses that are the hallmarks of official Chinese discourse. Thus, in a 2015 speech, Foreign Minister Wang Yi managed to proclaim that China is preserving, building, and contributing to the international and regional order all at the same time.1 Yet even such a masterfully opaque statement does not obscure China's unique views and aspirations about the future world order.

Chinese leaders have always chosen the United Nations as the platform for their grand proclamations about international order, as they regard the organization as the central pillar of the contemporary international order. President Hu Jintao introduced the concept of a "harmonious world" in his 2005 speech to the United Nations. Ten years later, in 2015, President Xi sought to do the same with the new concept of "a community with a shared future for mankind." He argued that constructing "a new type of international relations" based on the core principle of "win-win cooperation" was the surest way to realize such a community. In particular, he stressed that a new approach of "dialogue not confrontation, partnership not alliance" in interstate relations must be developed to build "global partnership relationships." China's new security concept of "common, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable security" must replace all Cold War mentalities.2

One year earlier, in May 2014, Xi had canvassed some of these ideas in a widely noted speech to the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), held in Shanghai. This hitherto obscure [End Page 13] conference provided the occasion for Xi to make a major statement on China's vision of the Asian security order. He proposed the "Asian security concept" of "common, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable security" that he was to proclaim in every major foreign policy speech thereafter. This vision is one of the twin security norms, along with the "new security concept" of mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, and cooperation that China promoted in the 1990s, that the country seeks to advance in the international and regional orders.

More significantly, to the alarm of some outside observers, Xi intimated during CICA his intention to exclude the United States from Asian security affairs. "Asian affairs," he said, "must ultimately be dealt with by Asians. Asian problems must ultimately be addressed by Asians. Asian security must ultimately be maintained by Asians. Asians have the capacity and wisdom to realize Asian peace and stability through enhanced cooperation."3

Ridiculing some countries—not least the United States—as "having pulled their bodies into the 21st-century but left their heads in the old era of Cold War mentality and zero-sum struggle," Xi declared that China would construct a new architecture for regional security and cooperation and strive to carve out a mutually built, mutually shared, and win-win Asian security way.4 During his March 2015 speech to the Boao Forum for Asia, Xi introduced his full vision of the Asian regional order and declared China's goal of creating an "Asian community with a shared future."5

The remainder of this essay outlines the main features of China's vision for the Asian political-security order and compares it with the U.S.-led order. In contrast with the liberalism embedded in the U.S. order, China prefers political pluralism and promotes the legitimacy of all forms of political systems and social development models. Furthermore, in contrast with the centrality of alliances in the U.S. order, China opposes alliances and promotes its own brand of partnership diplomacy. The U.S. and Chinese visions of regional orders are thus in conflict, although cooperation is still possible when their practical interests converge. [End Page 14]

Political Inclusionism

China has now formulated its vision of the Asian political-security order. Its distinctiveness may be best illustrated by considering the points of convergence and divergence with the U.S. vision of the Asian order. The two countries agree on many fundamental security norms of modern...


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