This paper examines the Chinese Non-traditional security policy and its influences in South Asia. Non-traditional security (NTS) threats have become common issues in almost all parts of the world; both domestically and internationally, that originates from various fields such as ecological degeneration, drug trafficking, nuclear proliferation, internet hacking and transnational crime. The objective of this research paper is to identify how does China pursue its NTS policy and how it operates in South Asia.

The monologue on NTC is reconsidering its approach and existence in the boundaries of security co-operation at global and regional levels. Even now in 21st Century there is no common accord over how to approach and identify the NTS threats. However the interdependence between traditional and nontraditional security issues remain complicated while the institutions lack the required responses towards expanding security policies with regard to NTS. In the case of China’s new security policy introduced in 1996 developed as a political impetus for domestic level discussion on NTS and its significance to China’s future modernization and global relations. It is currently a common concept in Chinese foreign policy strategy, particularly at the regional level. This is an essential measurement of China’s rising force and impact in the world that ought not to be neglected.

In this context, the national security is referred to here as the ability to defend the intrinsic value of the country from external threats. National Security policy is to distinguish the strategic preference to build an exact balance between external and internal defenses for the allocation of resources and the prioritization among others. In the Chinese case, the term ‘national security’ commonly encompasses internal and domestic as well as foreign and external.

Since the Cold War, China has been gearing its National Security predominantly of its struggle against the two super powers: the United State of America and the Soviet Union as well as their devotees. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, China has been more binding with the phenomenon of globalization, led to the dramatic economic leap in China and raised national strength to engage in a range of interests to share with other countries. But on the negative side, China has been challenged by emerging number of non-traditional threats such as terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, transnational crime, drug trafficking, global warming, and environmental pollution (Liping, 2009). China and other nations like India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan have cooperated with each other to find solutions NTS issues such as energy, food security, financial and environmental security, while still keeping military security at the forefront of national security. However, to cope with the NTS issues China has developed a new concept of security and a strategy in which mutual trust and mutual benefit are the core features.

In 2004, China introduced its national security strategy. In order to implement it successfully (Li, 2012) policy reforms were introduced by China opening up for international cooperation to have a peaceful international atmosphere, especially with the nearby neighbors. However, China will face difficulties pursuing the new policy because of their large population and their unbalanced economic development which could lead to an internal financial crisis. On the other hand, China is skeptical whether other big powers will interfere with China and its national security if they seek cooperation with unlike allies both in traditional and NTS matters.

China has enjoyed independent foreign policy from the mid of 1980s, since it focused on long term economic and social development. The current foreign policy of China has characterized by independence, mutual respect and cooperation driven framework. China has placed its interest to carry forward relations with other nations on the basis of mutual respect and engage in international political, security and non-proliferation agreements and cooperation which based on its ‘five principles on peaceful co-existence.’ By re-imposing these characteristics, current Chinese leadership has a striking continuity in the policy of security strategy and has established the NTS for next 20 years (Liping, 2009).

Since past few decades, China has pursued a fast approach towards NTS cooperation in Asia. China hopes that the cooperation on NTS helps to increase mutual understanding and trust among neighbors and deepen the regional identity, which will enable gradual integration into the region. Recently, China and Bangladesh have agreed to improve their strategic partnership made after the visit of President Xi Jinxing, the first visit of a Chinese President to Bangladesh after three decades. Two significant conclusions of this historic visit is the implementation of the Chinese proposal on ‘One Belt, One Road’ [OBOR] and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). OBOR initiative is China’s most forward looking development project and its groundwork targets on connectivity and cooperation among countries, primarily between China and rest of Eurasia. It has seen as 21st century Silk route diplomacy by China with the intention of playing a bigger role in global economic affairs as OBOR’s progress.

China and South Asian countries are facing similar NTS issues such as energy security, food security, water shortage and climate change. In the recent years, China and South Asia have reached agreements on poverty, agriculture, education, disaster management and climate change (Li 2009). But the water scarcity is an ongoing sensitive issue between China and Indian sub continent countries, specifically between China and India. Many rivers in South Asia originate from China-Tibetan region. The Brahmaputra River, known as Yarlung Zangbo in China, originates from Tibet and flows through China, India and Bangladesh, finally discharging into Bay of Bengal. Since India and Bangladesh heavily depend on Brahmaputra River, the water stresses contributed to tensions between China, India and Bangladesh. India and China are competing over Brahmaputra River which leads to the water sharing disputes. As the Indian sub- continent is water scarce, China’s stronghold on water diversion plans, dam building as well as its strategic influences over the river flow to South Asia causes major pressure on India and Bangladesh and strains relations between China and India.

Since 2005 China has strengthened many bilateral ties with SAARC members on NTS issues. For instance China has introduced a breeding program on agriculture and farming jointly with Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal. The aim of this program is to elaborate the first private sector driven cattle breeding and AI (Artificial Insemination) service in Bangladesh and also the promotion and marketing of seed of improved forage crops in these given countries. In 2006 China and India have signed agreements to exchange agriculture experts and share irrigation technology. The purpose of this is to improve mutual participation in sharing resources of agriculture breeds and also strengthening agriculture development in both countries. China and South Asia have formulated co-operation on climate change and disaster management. China is acute on elaborating its co-operation with South Asian countries regarding NTS issues. In 2007, Chinese Foreign Minister introduced several policies to South Asia to combat poverty . As follows this Sino-Indian co-operation become a landmark when the two states settled to build an India – China strategic and mutual partnership for peace and prosperity, which led to the targets of US$30 billon of bilateral trade set for 2010 but it to be reached by 2008 (Singh, 2005).

Weak infrastructure and deficiency in physical connectivity are the main bottlenecks in economic development of South Asian countries. This economic deficiency is the root cause of poverty. Improving infrastructure and regional connectivity are the important remedies to prevent poverty in this region. China too faces social, environment and economic disparities and lack of energy security. The presence of these NTS issues in South Asia and in China has led to transnational co-operation by both entities. As a result, China continues its influence in South Asia on mutual benefits as well as a means to prevent India’s power over South Asia. China considers India as a threat to its national security. India is a highly emerging regional competitor for resources, market share as well as the international influences and warm US- India relation is perceived as an effort to contain China. Added to that India’s conventional security strength with its navy, sophisticated arms, and emerging nuclear capability is an emerging threat to China’s attempt to establish defense and economic monopoly in the region. On the other hand, China’s growing economic stability and Chinese intrusion on Indian Territory has been recognized as a strategy of China to encroach into the region. This certainly poses a threat to India’s considerable regional influences. To iron out the differences and make relative peace between the two countries the leaders from both countries made regular exchange of high-level delegations and worked on mutual cooperation.

Meanwhile, China has obtained influence over Pakistan and Afghanistan; thereby attempt to sustain balance of power in the South Asian region. The withdrawal of US military forces from Afghanistan has led China to become more active in the region. Through diplomatic efforts China believes that Afghanistan can be stabilized if they will allow building road and railway projects in the country as part of China’s Silk Road Economic Belt. The growing relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan seem to constrain India’s power in the region. China tactfully seeks to gain influence in South Asia to contain India’s position in the region. China’s primary focus in South Asia includes uphold for stability in Pakistan and Afghanistan in order to control the domination of Islamist extremists and thereby promote trade and energy security throughout the region creating accessibility to China.
The National security policy of China has a series of changes under the new leadership, explicitly on the regional politics. The goal of Chinese policy stays the same which is to create space to Chinese economic gains through influence over regions and countries. But they changed the strategy to acquire this goal by introducing measures to distribute economic aid and extend military support. Chinese President Xi Jinxing proclaimed the overall Chinese national security system covers the fields of politics, military, territory, economy, culture, society, science and technology, information, ecology, nuclear and natural recourses. He termed the new national security as “a national security path with Chinese characteristics” (Cheung, 2016). The Chinese policy makers believe that the new national security policy remarks the specific National security strategy for China.

In the 21st century, China has to acquire the following three important missions: achieve national reunification; move towards modernization; and establish stability in neighborhood as well as out of Asia. The objective of China’s modernization is to quaternary the Gross Domestic Product of 2000 and 2020 and to become a well developed country by 2050 (Liping, 2009). China has effectively put forward the concept of the establishment of a balanced and peaceful world with universal prosperity as its long term goal. At the same time, China has incorporated the concept of ‘people first’ into its diplomacy (Liping, 2009).

In sum, China and South Asia have been facing number of common NTS issues, such as lack of arable land for huge population, poverty, lack of energy resources and climate change. South Asia’s NTS threats challenge China and its relation with Indian Subcontinent. Water sharing is the major sensitive NTS issues between China and South Asia. The NTS threats between these countries can be solve only through co-operation and mutual understanding. The two sides should adapt preventive measures to ensure peace and prosperity in the region. The bilateral relations covering sectors like agriculture, trade, energy, disaster management, etc. have positively impacted China – South Asia relations and have helped in overcoming common NTS issues. However both China and South Asia should also look into solutions at a multilateral level, at the China – SAARC co-operation.

Cheung, Tai Ming. 2016. ‘The rise of the Chinese National Security State under Xi Jinping’, China Policy Institute: Analysis. Accessed April 17, 2017.

Li, Mingjiang. 2009. “China’s participation in Asian multilateralism: pragmatism prevails,” In Rising China: Power and Reassurance, edited by Ron Huisken. Canberra: Australian National University Press

Liping, Xia. 2009. ‘How China thinks about national security’, Rising China: Power and Reassurance, edited by Ron Huisken. Canberra: Australian National University Press.

Singh, Swaran. 2005. ‘China-India bilateral trade’, China Perspectives. Accessed April 17, 2017.

Ms. Swathi Gireesh M is currently an Intern at Regional Center for Strategic Studies. The views expressed in this post are her own, and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre.