China's Non-Traditional Security: Focus on Western China

April 20, 2023 Visakha G


Non-Traditional security is a branch of Security studies; it was developed to give way to the rapidly unfurling state of international and internal affairs of nations. It refers to non-military threats that may include various issues like human rights, climate change, food security, natural diseases, crimes and others. It primarily includes all the aspects of human security. These threats represent a very amorphous nature of globalisation and have thus started to affect various facets of human life. Due to the nature of these threats, it is nearly impossible to deal with NTS in isolation. There needs to be coordination and cooperation among states to solve them. It is also important to mention that NTS can be assured through social, political and economic development.

Looking at the contrasting nature of Western and Eastern China, we can witness a wide range of disparities. Furthermore, China has been under human rights activists' radar for various atrocities committed against the Uyghur Muslims in the region. What Western China needs is an accentuated focus on Non-traditional security.

Securitisation Theory: The Foundation of NTS

There was increasing debate in Security studies regarding the traditional notion of considering the state as the only referent object in international security. However, post-Cold War, there emerged a need to recognise other aspects of security that are much more human-centric. The Copenhagen School tries to bring in a critical approach to security, focusing on broadening and deepening the concept of security to provide a holistic outlook. Barry Buzan developed the Securitization theory that became the primary tenet of this school. He states that certain 'securitising actors' convert political issues into security issues by labelling them as dangerous, making them a high-priority issue even when it is not. The concept of security was getting narrowed down during the Cold War, as countries were focusing too much on militarisation. It was done by parties and leaders who wanted to perpetuate their rule by masquerading the exacerbated state of the economy. The traditional notion of security overlooked social heterogeneity, challenging scholars worldwide, mainly Marxist, Feminist and Post-colonialists. (Eroukhmanoff, 2018)

In the current context, the need to shift the focus to NTS is tacit. It advocates protecting what is threatened, which brings about the need to embrace dynamism in the transitional state of affairs. That being said, we cannot let go of defence forces to focus solely on NTS. Combining the forces becomes a prominent aspect of securitisation.

Locating China and its NTS journey

With China's rise as a key global player, it has given significant attention to strengthening its security forces. Although more emphasis was given to the military, other NTS aspects are also increasingly making it into China's domestic policy. It came as a reaction to realising its pivotal position in international relations today, considering it is the only permanent Asian nation in the UN Security Council today.

China came up with the Global Security Initiative (GSI) in 2022. China's policy is a prominent foot forward to counter US-led initiatives like QUAD and AUKUS. GSI portrays it to be an all-inclusive step towards security that would prioritise all the nations instead of hegemonizing itself. It seeks to oppose the zero-sum concept of security as it restricts the securitisation of other nations, which is the crux of NTS. GSI focuses on various issues in the region, like drug trafficking, terrorism, biosecurity and other types of securities. It espouses the non-interference principle and indivisible security. However, GSI is viewed through a malicious lens by other global actors. China has announced this policy amidst much furore in global politics. It also seems like a response to clear its name from various allegations due to its harsh COVID policies. Many view this as another step towards reinforcing its wolf warrior image and authoritarianism, especially in the Indo-Pacific region. (Carla Freeman, 2022)

Apart from China's initiatives, it is essential to consider the policies China is forcing other nations to take, like the recent launch of South Korea's New Indo-Pacific Policy which focuses on various NTS aspects posed by China's economic and psychological dominance in the region.

Exploring the Grey Areas: The Chinese Hypocrisy

The story of China's focus on NTS is filled with tales of hypocrisy and double standards. Like any other nation, China also likes to stand first in the line of global players with bold policies like GSI and Belt and Road Initiative. However, China faces criticism due to its draconian control and lack of transparency.

China's management of the COVID-19 pandemic has been in the limelight of criticism. From the start, China's poor management and secrecy lead to escalating cases worldwide. Even now, the actual state of affairs is a shroud of mystery. China came on strong with its Zero-Covid Policy, which resulted in protests from different sections of society, which is a rare phenomenon altogether. The restrictions placed on people drove them to protest against the PRC. The health infrastructure was overwhelmed, and there was stringent control over foreigners entering the country. This mishap forced many to question the state of human rights in the country with rising Party dominance over all its affairs.

Another pressing issue was China's treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province. The Uyghur Muslims are ethnic minorities, and China fears they are extremists. China allegedly holds about a million Uyghur Muslims in mass detention centres in the Northwestern region of China. It was reported that they are under intense surveillance by the PLA. They are also forcefully sterilised and have to do labour work under harsh conditions. The UN and the global media are referring to this as genocide. China, on the other hand, has denied any plausibility of such happenings. They are calling the sites located in Xinjiang vocational education centres. China has been putting up a firm wall against all the activists and disseminating misinformation to counter the growing discontentment among the global audience. As a response, the US even developed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) in 2021. The act states that the US will prohibit importing goods grown or manufactured in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. (Mainland, 2022)

Apart from human rights abuse, China also faces the intense effects of climate change. Although it has taken action to counter them, it is not nearly enough. China remains the largest emitter of Greenhouse gases. It emits 27% of the world's greenhouse gases (BBC, 2021). However, China's acceptance and action for NTS are visible when it comes to Climate action, which is reckoning the boost the government is giving to the Solar panel industry, EVs and other technological advancements.

However, if we look at China's policy action for NTS, it is still very entrenched in a very traditional type of security because China is ultimately in competition against the US, and all its policies are somehow aiming at countering them. So, it is still state-centric.

Western China: Examining a paradox within the borders

With the coming of Deng Xiaoping, China's economy opened its door to the world. There was rapid progress in the country. However, this development was anything but uniform. An often-overlooked region when it comes to commenting on China's development in the past decade is the Western part of the country. This region starkly contrasts the country's highly developed and modernised Eastern part. It was found that 94% of the people in China live on just 43 % of the land (Han, 2021), which shows the unevenly distributed demographic. Though one of the primary reasons is the geographical terrain of the Western part, it is not the only reason. This region is mostly home to minorities of the country. This region best espouses China's failure to guarantee equal development to the people, thus ultimately failing to provide non-traditional security. In 2021, China's Gini coefficient was 46.6, a measure of inequality, which is not a good indicator.

Moreover, the main reason for this is regional inequality. Bridging the gap between the rich and the poor is essential to providing security to the people. Because it is only with the development that the people can resist extremist forces, it also provides an infrastructure to control greenhouse gas emissions.

However, this region is rich in natural resources and has much barren land, which is extremely important to China for its multifaceted infrastructural projects. Having realised the importance of the Western region, China has undoubtedly started making efforts in order to be able to tap the resources fully. China first came out with its Great Western Development Strategy, or the Open Up the West Program, in 2000 as part of its five-year plan; it aimed to bring in more investment to develop the region based on NTS aspects. This project came under its 'Go West' campaign. One of the significant developments through this project was the West-East gas pipeline. Apart from this, there has been various construction for better connectivity in the region through roads and railway lines. Focus was also given to environmental conservation and education, done to attract more foreign investment. However, this policy failed to attract huge crowds and led to little development. (China's Western Development Campaign, 2001)

It is also important to point out that the Western region also holds another black hole for China: Xinjiang. China has been facing a massive backlash from all over the world, and to counter them, it came out with an Assistance Program in Xinjiang. Though started in the 1990s, this program was appropriately considered after 2010, following a riot in the capital. The aim of the plan was similar to the Great Western Development Strategy. It sought to provide financial aid to improve the infrastructure and bring some development to the province.

China is desperate to bring in the money and impede the region's development process. In recent times, China has come up with the Western Region Encouraged Catalogue, which consists of a list of industries seeking investment opportunities from foreign resources or any industry that the government wishes to support in the region. China has even relaxed restrictions on foreign investments in the region and announced tax concessions.

Lessons for China and The Way Forward

There is a need for equal development in China if non-traditional security is to be highlighted. China's rise as a global leader is another reason to focus on NTS. There is a massive disparity between the real sense of NTS and China's practice. Whatever money or projects are being laid out are so that they could establish hegemony in specific fields. Their push to multilateralism initially was a reaction to the 'Century of humiliation'. Even now, they like to maintain a strong position in all their bilateral and multilateral partnerships. Moreover, for NTS, transnationalism is an important characteristic. Instead of forming alliances as a reactionary measure, China should take a step away from the muddled state of affairs and go forward with the Global Security Initiative in a true sense.

China should adopt more transparency to deal with the snowballing allegations of authoritarianism and human rights abuse. However, it is easier said than done. China's one-party system has little scope for loosening up. Furthermore, as people rightly say, great responsibility comes with great power.



BBC. (2021). China emissions exceed all developed nations combined. BBC.

Carla Freeman, A. S. (2022, October 5). Xi Kicks Off Campaign for a Chinese Vision of Global Security. Retrieved from United States Institute of Peace :

(2001). China's Western Development Campaign. Every CRS Report .

Eroukhmanoff, C. (2018, January 24). Securitisation Theory: An Introduction. Retrieved from E-International Relations:

Han, O. (2021, October 20). 94 Percent of People in China Live East of This Line. Retrieved from Matador :

Maizland, L. (2022, September 22). China’s Repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Retrieved from Council for Foreign Relations :

About the Author:

Visakha G is currently working as a Research Associate at Indic Researchers Forum


The article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of the Organisation.

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