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The rise of China and the growing demand for consensus-based security

Image credit: IPP Photo Archive (Flickr: Creative Commons)

As this year’s G20 summit ended, the prevailing sentiment was one of limited gains as the lack of active diplomatic direction provided little in the way of real constructive debate. Although there was much to discuss regarding fiscal management and development, two areas remained underrepresented—namely the resolution of the South China Sea dispute and North Korea's (DPRK) nuclear activity.

At a time where China is increasingly important in global geopolitical and economic affairs, the manner with which it engages contemporary affairs has fallen under significant scrutiny. With respect to the objectives of the administration, the degree with which Chinese objectives align with those of the international community represents a strong determinant of future cooperative and bilateral relations.

A foremost concern for many in the international community, the tensions simmering over the disputed territory of the South China Sea signifies a definitive threat to regional stability and global trade networks. Though the decision passed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration provided a foundation for legitimate discourse, predominately it has facilitated the incitement of an overtly antagonistic opposition to Chinese activities. Though such responses are not entirely unfounded, they reveal that a more conciliatory temperament is necessary to resolve tensions and promote an equitable framework for dispute resolution.

Critically, the proven presence of oil reserves in the realm of seven billion barrels, and an estimated 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas amongst the shoals and reefs, have exacerbated the risk factors compelling conflict. The importance of the region must be stressed in both a closed geopolitical sense and in relation to the changing circumstances of international political power. The complicated narrative of apparent motivations behind territorial claims in the South China Sea has sought only to further confuse the fundamental objectives of arbitration. Without an acknowledgement of the underlying national interests at stake, the pursuit of a peaceful compromise will continue to face forestalment.

Furthermore, the natural inclination of states to seize upon lucrative opportunities such as these is likely to exacerbate the already competitive environment. With compromise in mind, it has been recommended that peaceful conflict resolution might be met through a multilateral resource-sharing cooperative. However, the likelihood of such an arrangement coming to fruition without the involvement of the US remains subject to much debate.

Elsewhere, the security dilemma of Northeast Asia has become apparent in the wake of the successful detonation of a nuclear warhead by the DPRK. A thoroughly persistent threat, the acquisition of the capacity for nuclear warfare by the totalitarian socialist state is likely to herald a renewed period of volatility in the region. In preparation, both South Korea and Japan, have considered deploying the US Army anti-ballistic missile system (THAAD). Though China has the capacity for missile defence, its lack of cooperation in collective security is an unfortunate side effect of its commitment to the Kim dynasty.

A failure to preclude a breach of the 1953 armistice would see significant fallout for China in the ensuing migration crisis that many analysts predict would follow the collapse of the DPRK. Working to afford the nation the conditions for economic stability through benign assistance, China's partnership with the DPRK has prevented conflict in the past. In light of the recent nuclear test and explicitly antagonistic intentions of the regime, however, this strategy appears unlikely to maintain peace for much longer.

As expressed by the CFR Independent Task Force, the path to a stable and prosperous Northeast Asia relies on engagement with a Chinese authority that seeks the protection of human rights, the enforcement of sanctions, escalating financial pressure, and a strengthened determination towards deterrence and defence. Thus, the potent threat resting on the Chinese border must be acknowledged before participation in a collective security agenda can be pursued.

These cases exemplify that the pursuit of initiatives in Chinese foreign policy counter to the international community has forestalled the development of a framework for cooperation. Similarly, the antagonism shown towards Chinese activities illustrate the partisanship affecting the broader international community. In lieu of lucrative domestic objectives, the potential for the instantiation of transparency and security cooperatives present two of the most promising avenues of constructive diplomacy.

With a permanent Security Council position, the second highest nominal GDP of any nation and ongoing speculation over prospects for the internationalisation of the Yuan, anticipation of greater engagement with China is palpable. The vision that Chinese engagement with the international community will represent rests tentatively upon the decisions of its administration.

In line with rhetoric for global cooperation, successful integration with the international order requires peaceable international discourse and commitment to the goals of reconciliation and sustainability. As articulated in the G20 Leaders' Hangzhou Communiqué, 'The choices we make together will determine the effectiveness of our response to the challenges of today and help to shape the world economy of the future'. In the course of international affairs, collaboration with the Chinese represents the missing piece in the pursuit of a stable world order and—provided the continued alignment of international ideals—a viable pathway to a prolonged age of prosperity.

Jonathan Frances is a third year in the Bachelor of International Relations at the Australian National University.

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