China expert at CIOR Seminar: – Should keep our minds open
The annual CIOR Seminar – titled “China, Threat or Opportunity” – opened on Saturday (22. Feb.) with introductions by former Swiss Ambassador Philippe Welti and Dr. Andreas Wolfrum* on Chinese strategic interests, culture and economy, setting the scene for the rest of the week where the lectures were scheduled to take a deeper dive into more specific questions.
By: Lt Sarah George, UK Army and 2nd Lt Catalin Florea, Romanian Air Force, both with background from CIOR’s Young Reserve Officer program.
Sunday included lectures by Dr. Christopher D. Yung, Dr. Oliver Corff and Dr. Lyle Goldstein.
“We should keep our mind open to the possibility of change
in Chinese Foreign Policy.”
– Dr. Lyle Goldstein
Dr. Yung opened with a baseline brief on what most China experts agree on: that China has experienced unprecedented economic growth, which has coincided with an increased defence budget: 10% growth for two decades; a constantly modernising military and finally, although it is still a point of debate whether China does indeed pose a threat to US national security, there are definitely contingencies that could involve direct conflict.
Dr. Yung then went on to discuss his own professional take on China and its intent, that it prioritises internal security over defence.
“What keeps Xi Jinping up at night worrying is Xinjiang.”
– Dr. Yung
What keeps Xi Jinping (Chinese President) up at night worrying is Xinjiang, says Dr. Yung. Xinjiang is an autonomous region in North-Western China. A substantial part of the population are Turkish tribes with Muslim faith. The Uighurs alone constitute 45 per cent of the population in the province, and they have since long felt socially and economically marginalized in China. Human rights activists claim that that Uighurs are subject to religious persecution.
Stronger, more unified international power
Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has aided him to consolidate power, placing China in a stronger, more unified position to act internationally.
What China really wants is not a subject universally agreed on, but Dr. Yung argued a very strong case for why China would want the period of strategic opportunity to continue: A peaceful and stable environment is key for a nation that has incredibly ambitious economic growth targets. Unlike Western nations, China doesn’t see a trade spat as equating to increased likelihood of conflict.
Wants to return to regional hegemony
Dr. Yung presented evidence for why China would want to reform the international order, however, returning to regional hegemony in a multipolar world.
As these long term objectives are contrary to US national security interests, he argued that this poses a challenge to the US, especially as China does have, and is further developing, the capability to operate ‘out of area’ in protection of overseas economic and political interests.
He argued that while China does not currently pose a global military threat to the International System, and NATO, the US is a core constituent part of NATO.
The concept of a strong China is tightly related to the “mutual dependence between economic and military strength”, said Dr. Oliver Corff during the CIOR Seminar in Bonn.
Dr. Corff spoke about military-civilian fusion as an important principle of Chinese development plans, connecting civilian areas such as manufacturing to national defence.
He pointed out stability as the most important interest of the Communist Party of China (CPC), as this enables its secure and unchallenged rule.
Another core interest is territorial integrity, fuelled by concerns regarding regions such as Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet – and, more recently – Hong Kong and the South China Sea.
Finally, a third core interest would be development in all areas, from military to healthcare, rooted in Leninist historical determinism, said Dr. Corff.
China’s national security framework stands as a manifestation of this approach, as it covers not only military or territorial issues, but also extends to environment, society and culture.
“Asia’s Security Paradox”
Dr. Corff considers that China’s grand strategy is a good match to Asia’s Security Paradox – the fact that strengthening economic ties and interdependencies does not result into commensurate increases in regional security and mutual confidence.
* Dr Andreas Wolfrum works at the Center for Military History and Social Sciences of the Budeswehr, Department of Education, and is himself a Naval Reserve Officer with the rank of Commander.
Image gallery by 2nd Lt Catalin Florea, Romanian Air Force.