Xi said Asian countries should “pro-actively” seek to build an Asian security concept with a regional framework, in a speech to an audience including Russian President Vladimir Putin and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the fourth Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia. CICA is a group of more than 20 mostly Asian nations from Turkey to South Korea that aims to improve cooperation on peace and security in the region. Japan and the U.S. are observers.
“Regional security cooperation work has reached a key phase,” Xi said. “We should keep up with the changing times, and cannot allow it to happen that your body has entered the 21st century but your mind still sticks to the old era of Cold War and zero-sum mentality.”
China, which today assumed chairmanship of CICA until 2016, is seeking to raise the significance of the organization as one of many initiatives to place itself at the center of Asian affairs. The soft power push comes as it faces increased tensions with Vietnam and U.S. allies the Philippines and Japan over its more assertive claims to maritime territory.
While CICA is in its infancy as an organization, Xi’s new Asian security concept will inevitably cause friction as the U.S. rebalances its strategic interests to Asia, said Shen Shishun, director of the Department of Asia-Pacific Security and Cooperation at the China Institute of International Studies.
“The raising of this new type of Asian security concept has been in Beijing’s pipeline for a while,” he said. “China is a powerhouse in the region and needs a platform to gain, maintain and strengthen its position in Asia.”
Xi and Putin launched joint, week-long Chinese-Russian naval exercises near the disputed East China Sea islands controlled by Japan. China declared a temporary no-fly and no-sail zone across swathes of the ocean that prompted South Korea to lodge a diplomatic protest.
China is an “active promoter” of the Asian security concept and is also firm in its implementation, Xi said. Key regional security issues that the government in Beijing has been working on include restarting the six-party nuclear talks on North Korea, the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and building an Asian security emergency-management mechanism, Xi said.
He also warned against any single power’s attempt to dominate regional security matters. “One country’s national security should not be at the expense of others,” he said.
CICA was first mooted by Kazakhstan in 1992 to promote peace and security in Asia and a summit is held every four years. The organization upholds China’s principle of non-interference in the internal affairs, a point emphasized by Xi in his speech.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Afghan President Hamid Karzai are among 11 heads of state gathered in Shanghai, along with representatives from 46 countries. The admission of Qatar and Bangladesh today will take the number of CICA member states to 26.
China is seeking a more assertive international role as it tussles with neighbors over maritime territory, and faces off with a U.S. that is shoring up its alliances in the region. The Chinese government is embroiled in a dispute with Vietnam, with boats from the two countries colliding during a stand-off near the site of a Chinese exploration rig in contested waters. Vietnam is also a member of CICA.