Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Build on security initiatives

By Miwa Hirono (China Daily European Weekly) Updated: 2011-05-20 10:34


Build on security initiatives

China and Europe must put ideological differences aside and seize clear opportunities for cooperation to fight non-traditional security threats

As we witness new forms of conflict, the nature of global security is changing. Intra-state conflicts and crises in the Middle East and Africa, pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden and terrorist attacks around the world - collectively known as non-traditional security issues - represent increasingly imminent threats to peace and stability in our neighboring regions, and in turn, to our political and economic activities.

The ongoing conflict in Libya is a case in point. Chinese and European workers have been forced to flee the country, leading to a huge loss of business. Instability in the resource-rich regions of the Middle East and Africa is likely to disrupt political and economic operations around the world.

Pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden pose another challenge. About 80 percent of all trade with Europe moves through the Gulf of Aden, including one-third of the continent's oil supplies. It is also a corridor for Chinese imports. Attacks on ships, resulting in disruption of trade, could have a very serious impact on the Chinese and European economies, and on global commodity prices.

Challenges and opportunities

Non-traditional security issues are invariably global problems, beyond the capacity of any single country to solve, and tackling them requires in-depth international cooperation between multiple countries.

Multinational cooperation between military forces is particularly important. The application of military power is one way of dealing with security on the ground when conflicts arise. When multiple national interests are at stake, military forces from different states are likely to operate side by side.

Rehearsing joint, combined, inter-agency and other forms of interaction among militaries before they are needed is absolutely essential to improving the efficiency of joint operations such as peacekeeping and anti-piracy escort missions.

China and Europe, however, have vastly different foreign policy stances on major global security issues. Ideological rifts have been further exposed through the international community's response to the Libyan crisis, with China criticizing NATO bombing missions.

Indeed, how to achieve the right balance between the protection of civilians and the principle of the minimum use of force in peace operations is one of the central questions dividing China and Europe. To add further complexity, Middle Eastern and African states also have a diverse array of perspectives on the issue.

Critics might question how China and Europe can cooperate when they have divergent international political priorities. However, both China and European states share a fundamental interest in the maintenance of regional stability. The challenges are so great that practically-oriented cooperation cannot be hampered by mere difference in principle.

The United Kingdom has been nurturing military relations with China over the last decade. Key Chinese and UK policy documents suggest there is real potential for the expansion of military cooperation between the two states.

China's National Defense Ministry in 2010 spells out the People's Liberation Army's commitment to peacekeeping, anti-piracy and international disaster relief operations, as well as joint military exercises and training with other countries. China's emphasis on the commitment to these derives from the PLA's need to adapt "to changes in times and security environment", and to project a benign image of its military to the world.

The UK's Strategic Defence and Security Review mentions the importance of bilateral defense and security relationships with "emerging economic powers (such as) China and India". Furthermore, facing defense budget cuts, the UK is seeking the best possible use of resources. Burden sharing with key partners such as China, through military cooperation, offers one way to achieve this.

My interviews and meetings with policymakers and military leaders of both countries confirm that both sides are keen to expand cooperation. This is not only for potential practical benefit, but also for political benefit. The two states share the view that military cooperation on non-traditional security issues may strengthen mutual trust and build confidence, thereby encouraging China in its role as a responsible stakeholder.

Of course it is mistrust that represents a sizeable obstacle to productive relations between China and the United States, and this should be addressed urgently. The Taiwan question significantly hampers Sino-US relations, and it will take more time for meaningful and practical defense cooperation to develop.

In contrast, China and some of the European states have already engaged in such gestures of friendship as high-level visits, military student exchanges and naval port calls, on which practical cooperation programs can be built.

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