Quantifying China's Influence on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

By Abigail Grace
Cornell International Affairs Review
2016, Vol. 10 No. 1 | pg. 2/3 |


While the Western scholars discussed above have identified the SCO as an instrument of Chinese foreign policy, China-based academicians and the CCP have denounced this viewpoint. Little has been done to quantify Westerns scholars' assertions and draw comparative conclusions between China's involvement in the SCO and its involvement in other regional multilateral organizations. Therefore, in an effort to provide more robust and conclusive evidence supporting Wu and Lansdowne, Gill, Wuthnow et al, and Chung's claims that China influences the policy of the SCO, this study takes a quantitative approach to understanding China's influence on the SCO's policies and objectives. A frequency analysis of ten "key phrases" reappearing within China's National Defense White Papers will be conducted on four key SCO documents. In an effort to compare the PRC's influence on the SCO versus other regional multilateral security organizations, three ASEAN+1 documents will also be examined for the frequency of these phrases. When regional multilateral organizations, such as ASEAN+1 and the SCO choose to employ one of these ten phrases, they are accepting the connotations associated with the phrase. The acceptance of the phrase's connotations also can be viewed as an implicit endorsement of related PRC policy. After results from the frequency analysis are obtained, this study will examine which phrases have the highest occurrences in SCO documents and ASEAN+1 documents.

These ten "key phrases" were not selected at random. All phrases are explicitly tied to the list of previously identified Chinese regional security objectives. As evidenced in the data shown in Figure 2, these phrases appear at extremely high rates in foundational Chinese governance documents. Their high-levels of repetition across decades of official defense policy documents demonstrates that policymakers within China deem them to be unique and critical to Chinese interests. Furthermore, this study's methodology is grounded in the premise that the inclusion of a particular policy-oriented phrase does not just reflect the adoption of the PRC's policy, but also whatever connotations are associated with the phrase. The below chart lists all phrases that this analysis will search for, their English translations, and the connotations associated with the phrase. Connotations associated with the below phrases were derived from a review of these phrases usage within China's National Defense White Papers issued from 2000-present.28 Eleven documents indicative of the PRC, SCO, and ASEAN's positions on regional security issues were selected for analysis. These documents are grouped into three over-arching categories: China's National Defense White Papers, a biennial publication documenting China's military and defense priorities; Shanghai Cooperation Organization statements and treaties; and ASEAN+1 treaties and statements. All selected documents have a general emphasis on regional defense and security cooperation. Examined documents were either originally published in Mandarin, or a translation in Mandarin was produced concurrently with the treaties' signing. A complete listing of documents, their respective publication dates, and their associated categorization is located in Appendix One.

Skeptics of this approach could argue that these terms, such as peace (和 平, heping) mutual trust (互信, huxin), and struggle (挑战, tiaozhan) could be as highly valued by other member states as they are by the PRC. However, the concluding qualitative portion of this review seeks to demonstrate why these ten phrases carry an outsized influence for the Chinese government. Therefore, the final component of this study will put these findings in conversation with the examined document as a whole. What objective was the identified phrase advancing within the treaty or statement? How does this priority correlate to the PRC's key regional security objectives? Does the occurrence of this word lend credence to the overall argument that the PRC is shaping the policies and priorities of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization? While the frequency of these phrases demonstrates that Chinese interlocutors are able to exert discursive influence on treaties issued by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, qualitative analysis shows the policy implications of these phrases generates significant gains for Chinese government positions on contested issues. Conversely, the absence of these phrases in ASEAN+ 1 documents alludes that, though China might seek to influence ASEAN and its member states, ASEAN's relatively robust institutional framework does not enable China to substantively alter member states positions on controversial security issues.

Figure 1: Selected=

Figure 1: Selected Phrases, Their Translations, and Their Connotations

Empirical Findings

The below findings overwhelmingly support the hypothesis that key foreign policy phrases used by the PRC within their own domestic documents occur at dramatically higher rates in SCO documents than in ASEAN+1 documents. Each key phrase identified within China's National Defense White Papers occurred within at least one, if not all, of the three selected SCO documents. The same did not hold for ASEAN+1 documents. Phrases that are notably omitted from all ASEAN+1 documents include mutual respect (互尊, huzun), separatism (分裂主 义, fenlie zhuyi), extremism (极端主义, jiduan zhuyi), and threat (威胁, weixie). The phrase good neighbor (睦邻 , mulin) only makes one appearance throughout examined ASEAN+1 documents. This stands in stark contrast to SCO documents, which, when taking into account the vast differences in length between China's National Defense White Papers and SCO documents examined, had similar usage rates for most key phrases. The below table lists key phrases' rate of appearance within each of the eleven selected documents.

Figure 2: Key Phrases Frequency Within Selected=

Figure 2: Key Phrases Frequency Within Selected Documents

The preceding table demonstrates that phrases of political importance to the PRC appear at dramatically higher rates in SCO documents than in ASEAN+1 documents. The above findings' impact is made even clearer when looking at which key phrases appear within SCO and ASEAN+1 documents. The below chart indicates that SCO documents contain key phrases that span the entire spectrum of regional security objectives. SCO documents discuss common threats and struggles. The signing parties frequently invoke language on their mutual respect and trust for one another. Quite notably, the SCO documents include numerous references to combatting separatism (分裂主义, fenlie zhuyi) and extremism (极端主义, jiduan zhuyi). Inclusion of these phrases indicates adherence to the belief that China is facing serious challenges to its sovereignty in Taiwan, Xinjiang, and Tibet—a contentious position in the international sphere. In the selection of SCO documents, parties also included references to harmony (和谐, hexie), previously identified as a term that can harken back to Confucian conceptions of the world order. Overwhelmingly, SCO states affirm their commitment to be a good neighbor (睦 邻, mulin) to one another.

Notably, the key phrase most frequently reappearing in ASEAN+1 documents is peace (和平, heping). This phrase is most closely associated with the PRC's desire to retain regional stability within Asia. Undeniably, this is one of China and ASEAN's largest shared priorities. A primary objective of ASEAN is to support peace within Asia.29 Regional turmoil, such as a violent escalation of territorial disputes within South China Sea, would present large costs to both China and ASEAN. Their collective cooperation on this issue only stands to benefit both actors. Thus, the recurrence of peace (和平, heping) should not be read entirely as ASEAN submitting to Chinese policy objectives and priorities. Rather, it should indicate that both actors recognize that their strongest collective interest is peace. Accordingly, references to maintaining regional piece within Asia are quite prevalent throughout ASEAN's treaties and documents.

Figure 3: Frequency of Key Phrases in SCO & ASEAN+1 Documents

Figure 3: Frequency of Key Phrases in SCO & ASEAN+1 Documents

Figure 4 provides interesting insight on the relative frequency of key phrase utilization between selected SCO documents and China's National Defense White Papers. The first two selected SCO documents, "The Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism" and "Statement by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Member States and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on combating terrorism, illicit drug trafficking and organized crime," predictably have much higher utilization of phrases characteristically used within strictly military and counter-terrorism contexts: terrorism (恐怖主义, kongbu zhuyi) and threat (威胁, weixie). However, both the "Charter of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization" and the "Treaty on Long-Term Good-Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation Between the Member States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization" have similar usage rates of phrases such as peace (和平, heping) harmony (和谐, hexie), mutual trust (互信, huxin), struggle (挑战, tiaozhan), and threat (威胁, weixie). These phrases are connected with Chinese regional security objectives as diverse as maintaining regional stability within Asia, championing the "Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence," and the PRC's quest to obtain the status of "regional hegemon."

The quantitative evidence provided not only demonstrates that "key phrases" appear more frequently within SCO documents than in ASEAN+1 documents, but further analysis also indicates that the phrases that do appear within ASEAN+1 documents are not solely Chinese foreign policy objectives. Rather, ASEAN+1 documents emphasize key phrases that advance the objectives of both actors, while SCO documents relative frequency of key phrases closely mirrors key elements of many China's National Defense White Papers.

Figure 4: Relative Frequency of Key Phrases in SCO Documents and China's National Defense White Papers

Figure 4: Relative Frequency of Key Phrases in SCO Documents and China's National Defense White Papers

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