China’s “Total National Security Paradigm” : Implications for Foreign Relations and ‘Taiwan Reunification’

 By Ashu Maan
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Abstract

The introduction of the “Total National Security Paradigm,” or “Overall National Security Concept,” under Chinese President Xi Jinping signifies a fundamental shift in China’s approach to national security. This doctrine broadens the definition of security beyond traditional military considerations to include political, economic, social, cultural, technological, and ecological domains. With this expansive view of security, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) seeks to consolidate control, address perceived domestic and external threats, and reshape the regional and global landscape in its favour. This paper will analyze how the Total National Security Paradigm influences China’s foreign relations and its long-held goal of reunification with Taiwan.

Keywords: Total National Security Paradigm, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Strategic Ambiguity, Grey-zone Tactics, Foreign Relations

Foreign Relations: Shifting Dynamics and Assertiveness

The Total National Security Paradigm frames China’s foreign relations through the lens of securing its diverse interests against a backdrop of increased strategic competition, particularly with the United States. Key consequences of this approach include:

  • Justification for Aggressive Actions:            The emphasis on security often becomes a justification for China to respond aggressively to perceived challenges. Examples include China’s belligerent actions on the borders against India (Mankikar, 2023), China’s actions in the South China Sea, economic coercion against nations that do not align with its stances (US Congress, 2023), “wolf-warrior diplomacy” characterized by assertive rhetoric.
  • Assertive Posture on Core Interests: Issues deemed “core interests,” such as Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang, see a redoubling of Chinese assertiveness(Zhaokui, 2014). Beijing is far less accommodating to external criticism or actions it sees as undermining its sovereignty. China believes that “Western countries may use their capitalist institutions with a high degree of autonomy to intervene in China’s internal affairs or even to propagate Western principles to mainland China,”. China claims that because of support from Japan and the West, Taiwan’s separatist movement still poses a latent threat (Kaori Kaneko, 2023). Even though Taiwan and the mainland seem to have different ideologies, Taiwan currently has close security ties with both countries. Because of this, China has been behaving assertively in Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang.
  • Economic Leverage and Security Linkages:           China increasingly utilizes its economic clout to advance its political and security objectives. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), while primarily focused on infrastructure and development, carries strategic undertones as China seeks to expand its sphere of influence and secure vital resources and supply chains.
  • Securing Technology and Innovation: Technological competition with the West, particularly the US, has become a critical security concern. China seeks to achieve self-reliance and dominance in key technologies, leading to both collaboration and increased suspicion toward foreign technology firms.

The Taiwan Question: Heightened Tensions and Potential for Conflict

Xi Jinping has inextricably linked Taiwan’s reunification with China’s “national rejuvenation,” deeming it a non-negotiable core interest. The Total National Security Paradigm intensifies pressure on Taiwan by framing the issue as crucial to Chinese territorial integrity, national prestige, and the survival of the CPC itself. Key consequences include:

  • Diminishing Prospects for Peaceful Reunification: The CCP’s heightened rhetoric and focus on military modernization signal a reduced tolerance for Taiwan’s de facto independence. This undermines any hopes for a gradual, peaceful path towards reunification.
  • Increased Military Pressure: China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has escalated military exercises and incursions into Taiwan’s airspace and surrounding waters. These actions serve both to intimidate Taiwan and to prepare the PLA for a potential use-of-force scenario (Reuters, 2023).
  • Strategic Ambiguity and Risk of Miscalculation: The US maintains a policy of strategic ambiguity regarding its commitment to Taiwan’s defence (Kuo, 2023). This ambiguity, coupled with China’s increased assertiveness, dramatically increases the risk of miscalculation and potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait.
  • Political Isolation and Interference: China will likely increase its efforts to isolate Taiwan diplomatically, limiting its international participation and pressuring countries to sever their ties with Taiwan (Herscovitch, 2022). Additionally, China might step up interference in Taiwan’s internal politics, including disinformation campaigns and support for fringe pro-unification groups (Zhen, 2024).
  • Global Ramifications: A conflict over Taiwan would have disastrous consequences for the region and the world. Major powers, including the US, Japan, and potentially others, could be drawn into a conflict, with devastating economic and geopolitical fallout.

Way Ahead for Taiwan                                                     

As its economy stagnates and major countries diversify their supply chains, the CPC is poised to build more pressure on Taiwan, mainly through coercion and grey-zone tactics. With dire economic prospects, the Party would probably look at new sources of legitimacy, that could very well include invading Taiwan. In such a situation, Taiwan can take the following measures to be better prepared.

  • Building Deterrence: Taiwan faces the challenge of strengthening its military capabilities to deter potential Chinese aggression. It involves investing in asymmetric defence capabilities, deepening security cooperation with allies like the US, and bolstering its defence industry.
  • Resilient Society:  Taiwan needs to foster internal resilience to withstand potential Chinese disinformation and psychological pressure. This requires investments in cybersecurity, media literacy education for the public, and support for civil society organizations.
  • Strong Partnerships: Taiwan must maintain strong diplomatic and economic relationships with like-minded countries to counter Chinese pressure. Developing ties with the US, Japan, the EU, and other democracies in the Indo-Pacific region is crucial.
  • Economic Diversification: Reducing economic dependence on China is essential for Taiwan. This includes diversifying trade partners, exploring new markets, and promoting domestic innovation and industry.
  • Promoting National Identity: Cultivating a strong national identity that resonates with the entire population can foster unity and strengthen national resilience against external threats. This might involve fostering a shared understanding of Taiwanese history and culture, promoting civic engagement, and encouraging inclusivity.

Conclusion

China’s Total National Security Paradigm is a defining feature of Xi Jinping’s leadership and represents a significant shift in its approach to national security, with far-reaching implications for its foreign relations and the Taiwan issue. It reflects the CCP’s deep-seated anxieties about threats to its power and ambition to reshape the world order in its favour. This paradigm propels China towards a more assertive foreign policy stance, emphasizing proactive defence of its interests. The issue of Taiwan reunification is at the heart of this paradigm, exacerbating tensions and raising the spectre of a conflict with potentially catastrophic global consequences. This paradigm emphasizes a comprehensive view of security, encompassing political, economic, social, cultural, technological, and ecological aspects. In terms of foreign relations, this paradigm has led to a more assertive and aggressive posture, particularly regarding issues deemed as “core interests,” such as Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang. China’s use of economic leverage, strategic ambiguity, and military modernization has heightened tensions and increased the risk of conflict, particularly in the Taiwan Strait.  For Taiwan, the implications are profound. The CCP’s increased pressure, both militarily and diplomatically, poses significant challenges. Taiwan must focus on building deterrence, fostering internal resilience, maintaining strong partnerships, diversifying its economy, and promoting national identity to withstand Chinese pressure. Understanding the Total National Security Paradigm is essential to grasp China’s actions on the international stage and the critical challenges that lie ahead. Overall, the “Total National Security Paradigm” represents a new chapter in China’s foreign relations and its pursuit of reunification with Taiwan, with the potential for far-reaching consequences for regional and global security.

References

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