China now a major peacekeeping player: SIPRI

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) says China has become a major player in United Nations peacekeeping, especially in Africa.
The think tank says this has widened a “window of opportunity for the international community to engage with China more closely on global security issues, to help enlarge China`s commitment to regional stability and to contribute to more effective international peacekeeping operations.”
In a report entitled “China`s peacekeeping role: its significance and policy implications” SIPRI says China has dramatically increased its peacekeeping deployments from less than a hundred peacekeepers in 2000 to over 2100 by the end of last year.    
“As of December 2008, China was the fourteenth largest contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, providing more troops, police and observers to UN operations than three other permanent members of the UN Security Council: Russia, the United Kingdom and the
United States. Nearly three-quarters of China`s contributions are concentrated in Africa, reflecting the current focus of UN peacekeeping operations.”
The report`s authors add “China`s expanding engagement in peacekeeping activities offers new opportunities to strengthen its commitment to regional stability and security building and to improve international peacekeeping capacity. It also opens potentially beneficial areas of closer military cooperation between China and its major security partners.
They however caution that while China is keen to sharply increase its peacekeeping activities, “it will do so on a case-by-case basis and subject to certain persistent limitations.
“The continued deployment and redeployment of Chinese units throughout Africa, for example, suggests a gradual accrual of operational knowledge and a better understanding
of the political and security dynamics and complexities on the ground. At the same time, China`s increasing interaction with other militaries in UN peace operations has, to a certain degree, opened the window for a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of China`s peacekeeping capabilities,” the report`s authors add.
“Generally speaking, it appears that China is prepared to shoulder greater responsibilities and to play a more significant role in supporting the UN peacekeeping system. This would be welcomed within the UN system as the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) continues to rely on contributions and support from such developing countries as China.
“On the other hand, China`s willingness to fully engage in UN peacekeeping operations will face a number of constraints. Expectations within the international community should thus be modest but cautiously optimistic. The traditional view of state sovereignty and non-interference will continue to be the most important concern for Chinese policymakers.
“China`s responsiveness in peacekeeping affairs will also be slowed by practical matters of political, military and bureaucratic will and capacity. For example, China has not yet provided its planning data sheet to the UN Standby Arrangements System (UNSAS), which would list, among other things, major equipment, unit organization and movement data. In addition, China has yet to provide a formal commitment to contribute standby troops to the UN under the standard response time frame.
“In private, Chinese experts explain that there is a perennial shortage of well-trained peacekeeping officers with the necessary language and technical skills in the PLA.
“Insufficient air- and sealift capacity has also inhibited China`s ability to commit to the rapid deployment of significant numbers of troops over long distances. Moreover, China`s financial contribution to UN peacekeeping operations hovers at around 2% of the overall DPKO budget. This contribution would need to increase if China wants to play a larger role commensurate with its status as a permanent member of the Security Council and a rising global power.
“China remains generally cautious towards the use of peacekeepers and on the broader issue of intervention by the international community. In such cases as Zimbabwe and Myanmar, China has thus far resisted calls from human rights advocacy groups and some Western governments to pursue intervention based on humanitarian justifications. It should be noted, however, that in 1999 China accepted a UN-sanctioned humanitarian justification for using force in East Timor.
“It also subsequently dispatched a civilian police contingent to support the mission there. Likewise, in 2003, in response to growing instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia, the Chinese Ambassador to the UN, Zhang Yishan, argued that the UN should intervene in conflict areas earlier, faster and more forcefully.
“In short, China will continue to review interventions on a case-by-case basis,” SIPRI says.
“There will be limits to its participation, and it is unlikely that China will offer active support to international intervention when the international community is divided and the intended host government is opposed.”
Over time, SIPRI adds, “it is possible that China will aim to gradually counterbalance Western influence and more actively shape—in ways consistent with Chinese foreign policy principles and national interests—the norms guiding UN peacekeeping operations. To be sure, such influence could accrue over time, but it would first require greater Chinese commitment in several key areas, including better-trained troops and a more capable military that can deploy effective rapid-response teams.
“While Chinese troop contributions have increased rapidly since the mid-1990s, Chinese peacekeepers operate mainly on the margins.” The Chinese government, SIPRI says, should focus on improving the quality of its peacekeeping troops and expanding its contributions beyond maintenance, engineering and medical units.
“It also needs to demonstrate leadership capabilities at the DPKO and in peacekeeping operations around the world and to provide a greater financial contribution. At this relatively early stage in Chinese participation in UN peacekeeping, the international community should implement policies aimed at reinforcing some of the encouraging trends related to China`s expanding involvement in multilateral peace operations.
“China`s deployment of naval vessels off the coast of Somalia was closely coordinated with African and Western partners and has been warmly received by the USA and the European Union.”