By Wang Haili
The 9th Beijing Xiangshan Forum was held in Beijing from October 21 to 22, 2019. I had listened to the speeches and talked with military officers, experts and scholars from different countries, feeling it quite thought-provoking regarding the global security situation and its future tendency.
I. Disorder and turmoil are the distinct features of the profound changes unseen in a century.
During the forum, a friend asked me how I felt about the speeches given by the speakers, I answered without second thought, “the world is in disorder and turmoil”.
Intuition is a tricky thing. Later when I thought carefully about the somewhat casual answer that I gave at the time, it seemed quite accurate. At the forum, Russian Defense Minister General Shoigu said the multi-layered security system that has remained stable and maintained a power balance for many years is being damaged. General Mohamed Ahmed Zaki from Egypt pointed out that the Middle East is faced with serious terrorist threats, and America’s withdrawal from Syria and Turkey’s attacks of Kurds-occupied regions in particular have led to the fleeing of a large number of imprisoned terrorists. Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN for Political Security Community Dr. Hoang Anh Tuan expressed his concern, helplessness and even immense fear for the risks that major-country competition has brought to Southeast Asian countries. All their worries revealed that with the intensified competition between major countries and aggravated terrorism, nuclear proliferation and climate change, the many security risks in the world today are all reflected through the loss of order, which inevitably results in turmoil.
The design of the forum topics and agenda also conveyed the host’s attention to “order” and concern for “disorder”. This year’s Beijing Xiangshan Forum is themed with “Maintaining International Order and Promoting Peace in the Asia-Pacific”, and both the plenum and panel sessions consisted of two parts, the first one focusing on situations and issues while the second one on countermeasures and solutions.
In the second parts that discussed countermeasures and solutions, most topics were directly or indirectly related with “order”. The fact that both the guests’ speeches and the forum topics expressed the worry about “disorder” clearly highlighted the features of the profound changes never seen in a century that the human beings are going through right now. In an age of disorder and turmoil, every country has a strong feeling of insecurity and bewilderment, which gives rise to the multiplication of military expenditure, constant debut of high-tech weapons, and the ever-higher walls either visible or invisible.
II. Concept and technology are two fundamental issues concerning international security
While at the forum, I carefully studied its topics and agenda. In addition to maritime security, international counter-terrorism and security in the Middle East, the forum also arranged topics about concept and technology, such as “security concept innovation”, “challenges posed by technology to international security”, and “AI and future warfare”. It even ended with the topic of “international arms control system and global stability”. I think such arrangements fully demonstrated the host’s ingenuity and thoughtfulness, and I noticed that these topics received close attention from the delegates.
Being two fundamental factors that affect human progress and security, concept and technology interact with each other and are embodied through human thoughts and actions. As we can see, when science, technology and material production are making headway at an unprecedented acceleration, social conflicts are also getting ever sharper, leading to more destructive weapons, war, turmoil and disaster to the mankind.
Some say that technology is a “double-edged sword”, but I don’t think this is an accurate description. It’s not the sword that causes the disaster of war; rather it’s the people that hold it. The conservative vested interests, stubbornly holding on to outdated security concepts, cannot adapt to the trend of the time and eagerly want to stop the rolling wheels of history with the “sharper sword” in their hands in order to maintain their illicit interests. Under such circumstances, conflicts are sure to emerge, which lead to disorder, turmoil and even war.
III. Peace and cooperation are the common aspiration of most countries attending the forum
The discussions that impressed me most were about “Interests of Small and Medium-Sized Countries and Common Security”. Technological advancement and social progress have given medium and small countries more opportunities, and their voices and will are given more weight in the world.
I think the arrangement of this topic reflected the host’s acute grasp of the trend of time. Having heard the arguments and debates of so many big countries, the delegates were given a chance to hear the voices from medium and small countries that stood for the majority of countries in the world, including Cambodia, Nepal, Serbia, Singapore and Rwanda.
Cambodian Minister for National Defense Tea Banh said, “in a forest, the grass suffers when elephants fight, and it suffers too when elephants get along”.
“If the more than 50 million lives taken away in WWII are not enough to wake up the humankind, nothing else can,” exclaimed Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin.
In his speech, Singapore’s Minister of Defense Ng Eng Hen quite meaningfully quoted a toast to Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai by US President Richard Nixon in that historic visit of 1972: “There is no reason for us to be enemies. Neither of us seeks the territory of the other; neither of us seeks domination over the other, neither of us seeks to stretch out our hands and rule the world.” Then he added, “The world looks to the enlightened leadership of both the US and China to forge a world that is safe, open, inclusive for this generation and the next.”
(The author Wang Haili, is Senior Researcher Fellow at the Center for Policy Studies of the Grandview Institution)
Disclaimer: This article is originally published on Grandview Institution, and is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.