Conflict prevention in the 21st century

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Chinese policy on conflict prevention

Policy-making apparatus

China has no overarching policy or discourse on conflict prevention and its conflict prevention efforts to date could be described as having been ad hoc, reactive, and contextspecific rather than driven by grand strategy. A large number of often disparate Chinese actors engage in conflict prevention and there is no specific body dedicated to work in this area or coordination across it. At present, the seven-person Politburo Standing Committee is the main decision maker responsible for approving largely country- or region-specific policies on conflict prevention, with support from the State Council. State departments prominent in the policy formation process include the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). Prominent think tanks and universities feed into the process, as do significant state-owned enterprises such as China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and Sinopec, when relevant. MOFCOM and the MFA tend to be the key actors in policy implementation, although which ministry takes leadership can vary depending on the specific event that they are responding to. Similarly, there is no specific funding mechanism within government for conflict management matters.

The recent creation of the National Security Commission has the potential to impact on Chinese conflict prevention efforts as it may facilitate greater strategic coordination and information sharing across government ministries. Although the Politburo will still determine overall policy direction, the National Security Commission will offer advice to the Politburo and will oversee the development of specific plans and proposals for crisis response and management. However, generally speaking, the National Security Commission will not manage the day-to-day activities of the relevant ministries, and will only act if there is a specific crisis or event which could potentially pose a threat to national security – meaning that China's longer-term conflict prevention efforts are likely to remain outside this framework.


Key themes in official rhetoric

While the Chinese Government does not currently have a detailed policy relating specifically to conflict prevention, there are a number of long-standing foreign policy principles that steer China's response in this arena.

• The 'five principles of peaceful coexistence' are the cornerstone of Chinese foreign policy. The five principles, which originated in an agreement between China and India in 1954, are as follows:

1. Mutual respect for others' territorial integrity and sovereignty.

2. Mutual non-aggression.

3. Mutual non-interference in others' internal affairs.

4. Equality and cooperation for mutual benefit.

5. Peaceful coexistence.

• The idea that development leads to peaceis commonly referenced by Chinese officials, scholars and think tank experts in discussions about conflict prevention. Economic and social development is believed to be essential to addressing the root causes and drivers of conflict. Unlike many Western viewpoints, Chinese actors tend to emphasise the role of development at all phases of the conflict cycle.

• The 'new security concept'was first outlined in a 1998 Chinese White Paper. It emphasises the need for international disputes to be settled by peaceful means; that security dialogues and cooperation with other countries should be encouraged; and that these relationships should feature mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination in order to solve disputes and safeguard peace competently.

• The concept of a 'harmonious world'in which the international system is open, fair and non-discriminatory is another important theme in Chinese policy statements. It encourages China to work alongside and not neglect actors from the Global South and was recently used as part of the justification for the launch of the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

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