The study was focused primarily on the external risks and main drivers that may affect China’s external security environment in 2022. Twenty-seven top Chinese experts in international studies participated in corresponding discussions and surveys throughout the report’s compilation, based on which the study identified five major drivers, 10 major risk areas that influence China’s external security and several specific risk scenarios.
The invited experts’ risk judgments were affected and driven by five factors:
• Significant changes in the external environment for China’s economic and technological development, coupled with the pandemic, constitute a key influence on China’s external security environment in 2022.
• The main geographical space for China’s external security risks lies in the Taiwan Strait and its periphery, especially Northeast Asia.
• Influences of such global macro factors as climate change and international finance extend to every field of China’s external security.
• Political and security conditions of small and medium-sized countries along the Belt and Road deserve serious attention.
• China needs to highlight terrorist threats as a critical security concern.
Based on expert opinions and corresponding data analysis, risks in 10 areas of China’s external security environment deserve attention. They are listed below in order of their respective importance to China:
First, frictions re-emerge along Chinese borders and in surrounding maritime and airspaces.
The experts’ concerns focused on two aspects, one of which is accidents between China and the United State at sea or in the air — i.e. accidents or emergencies between China and the U.S. in waters off the Chinese coast or in the airspace above. Possible scenarios enumerated include frictions such as what followed the collision of Chinese and U.S. military aircraft in 2001, the USNS Impeccable incident of 2009 or unexpected maritime incidents between China and the U.S. in the West Pacific or the Indian Ocean. The other is “dispute friction,” — that between China and neighboring countries near disputed borders or seas against a backdrop of bilateral political tension.
Second, continuation or escalation of China-related international economic and trade conflicts makes China’s external economic environment even more negative.
There are two major risk points in the field of economy and trade. One involves “trade and investment rules,” where issues of serious concern include whether the U.S. will prolong additional tariffs on commodities involved in the 301 investigation against China, or even make them permanent; whether the U.S.-EU Trade & Technology Council will come up with bilateral export-control measures against China; whether the U.S. and allies will jointly enhance their examination of foreign investments in the name of national security.
The other is energy and resources security — influences that will affect China’s energy supply if global petroleum prices continue rising or falling by dramatic margins, or if China-Australia economic and trade ties continue to worsen; whether China will more frequently be subject to Western blockades, citing such non-economic criteria as labor rights and interests and environmental protection, while acquiring critical mineral resources for developing new energy sources.
In addition, advanced countries colluding in industry chain “desinicization” to turn industry chains related to public livelihoods from “just-in-time” to “just-in-case” production also ranks high on the list.
Third, continued politicization of global challenges triggers significant security incidents in the global public sphere.
Risk points mainly include the West hyping a “China threat” by taking advantage of global issues. Possible prospects include further stigmatizing China’s coal use and subjecting Chinese energy policies to greater pressure; developed countries shirk their responsibilities on emissions, with China facing continuously increasing pressure for emissions reductions as its interests further diverge from those of small island nations; Western media maliciously sensationalize China’s South Pole legislation and commercial fishing on the high seas.
The other is conflicts or accidents taking place in the global public sphere, such as mutual close-range reconnaissance between satellites of major countries and subsequent collisions or accidents caused by space debris.
Fourth, changes in international relations in Northeast Asia affect Chinese interests.
Multiple security hotspots in Northeast Asia constitute continuous blows and threats to Chinese security. The risk point attracting the most concerns is China-Japan relations, especially tensions in the relationship caused by changes in Japanese economic and security policies. Possible scenarios include Japan revising its National Security Guarantee Strategy or legislation concerning economic security guarantees, igniting tensions with China; Japan drags its feet on Chinese participation in CPTPP out of political considerations; Japan again comes up with provocative words and deeds over the Diaoyu Islands, Taiwan or historical issues in the runup to the 50th anniversary of normalization of China-Japan diplomatic relations, dealing blows to bilateral ties.
Fifth, confrontation over political ideas leads to worsening of major-country relations.
At the level of major-country relations, following the farces of the Summit for Democracy and some countries’ diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, ideological contradictions between China and Western countries may escalate further, especially as the West binds China together with Russia and constantly forms small ideological cliques targeted at China and Russia.
In 2022, Russia’s relations with the West may continue to worsen because of such traditional security issues as Ukraine, and result in escalation in diplomatic and economic tit-for-tat sanction. The West will hence further consolidate ideological alliances against China and Russia, worsening China’s external environment.
At the level of domestic politics in major countries, ideological polarization in Western countries deteriorates. The general elections in France are worth particular attention. If the ultra-rightist candidate Marine Le Pen wins, political stability in Europe may suffer a blow and lead to changes in France's China policies as well as in China-EU relations.
Sixth, intervention by outside forces escalates tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
Although experts unanimously believe escalation of tensions over Taiwan may trigger a crisis, its position among the 10 major risks on the list is in the intermediate or lower range. The outcome and its implications at the strategic and policy levels deserve discussion. There are two main risk points. One is that the U.S. side continues upgrading substantive relations with Taiwan authorities, helping Taiwan expand in the “international space.” Possible scenarios include the U.S. Defense Department inviting Taiwan to participate in the 2022 Pacific Rim military exercises in an observer capacity, and increase the number of Marine Corps personnel in Taiwan; more incumbent ranking officials, members of Congress and former politicians visiting Taiwan; the U.S. helping Taiwan set up “representative offices” in more countries and even encouraging some countries to “restore diplomatic relations" with Taiwan. Some experts also believe a small number of European countries may break through the present state of the Taiwan issue and undermine the “one-China” principle — for instance approving arms sales to Taiwan.
The other is military accidents related to Taiwan. For example, the U.S. military may increase the frequency of flights over and navigation through the Taiwan Strait, resulting in unexpected incidents involving the People’s Liberation Army in waters off Taiwan or corresponding airspace, which ranks very close to the top on the list. The experts also mentioned the risk of crises between U.S. allies and China in waters off Taiwan and corresponding airspace, which ranks lower.
Seventh, emergencies arise in the field of cyber security.
In the realm of scientific and technological security, systemic cybersecurity risks brought by new technologies drew overwhelming attention. Experts believe that in 2022 NATO countries, India and the U.S. may all come into conflict with China in cyberspace, but their respective importance drops in the same order. In July 2021, NATO released an unprecedented joint declaration on “cyberattacks from China.” India’s cyber capabilities and attack activities have both increased rapidly in recent years. The Quad security dialogue in 2021 repeatedly highlighted cooperation in cyberspace. Such developments raised experts’ concerns.
Moreover, if serious, large-scale data leak were to occur within China — say, for example, that data from some broadly adopted applications for pandemic control purposes is leaked, there will also be serious security consequences.
Eighth, continuation of the pandemic triggers chain reactions.
Experts believe the lingering COVID-19 will continue to threaten international politics and the economy, bringing security risks for China. The experts are most worried about the pandemic's political and governance chain reactions. For example, continuation of the pandemic may exacerbate contests over rules in the field of international public health. Thanks to the inability to resolve vaccine accessibility and affordability issues, political, economic or social crises may arise in some underdeveloped countries, and further undermine stability in China’s external environment. However, experts agree the risk of the pandemic itself worsening on a large scale, getting out of control and leading to global economic turbulence is not high.
Ninth, financial risks occur in the world’s major economies.
Experts believe, in 2022, that such challenges as dramatic drops in the U.S. stocks markets, rapid increases in long-term interest rates of the world’s main economies, drastic rises in banks’ non-performing assets or and the yuan encountering greater resistance in international payment and clearance will affect the external environment for Chinese economic development. Developed economies such as the U.S. and EU will begin adjusting the match between maintaining economic stimulus in the short term and tightening financial and currency policies in the middle and long term, which may create spillover shocks to other economies, as well as to exchange rates and stocks and bonds. Experts aren’t very concerned about the apparently outstanding present risk of developed economies losing control over inflation, believing in step with the application of vaccines and therapeutics that tensions regarding global supply chains caused by the pandemic may ease, and developed economies have relatively strong capacity for controlling and channeling inflation.
Tenth, changes in political conditions in countries along the Belt and Road result in a resurgence of terrorism.
Experts believe political changes and the tendency to politicize terrorism in countries along the Belt and Road may affect China’s overseas interests. Africa, the Middle East and South Asia are the regions they are most concerned about. Likely scenarios include domestic contradictions in such African countries as Ethiopia as a result of domestic conditions, economic activities, the pandemic and climate change, creating spillover effects in the area. Economic and social conditions in such countries as Lebanon could get out of control, and outside forces step in, resulting in armed confrontation and conflicts. Negotiations on the Iran nuclear issue don’t go well, tensions rise again in U.S.-Iran relations, or even result in conflict between the two sides. A military stand-off escalates between India and Pakistan. Or sudden changes occur in the Afghanistan situation.
Experts agree that terrorism still constitutes some degree of threat. Possible scenarios include politicization of terrorist organizations gaining momentum; a relatively large-scale terrorist attack or riot in India-controlled Kashmir; ISIS stages a comeback; domestic terrorist forces in Pakistan, such as the Pakistani Taliban and Balochistan Liberation Army, launch terrorist attacks on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor; terrorist, separatist and extremist forces spill over from Afghanistan and threaten the security of China and neighboring countries.
(English version orginally published on China-US Focus)