The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) says the international community should encourage and support China’s current drive to dramatically increase its involvement in United Nations peacekeeping operations, especially in Africa.
In a report published late last year, called China’s Expanding Role in Peacekeeping: Prospects and Policy Implications, SIPRI argues that China’s new engagement in peacekeeping presents a potentially win-win situation for China, the UN and countries emerging from conflict.
“For example, Chinese peacekeepers and Chinese equipment provide a significant boost to UN operations at a time when they are critically needed. At the same time, China’s profile as a big player outside the West reassures developing country governments about the motives behind UN intervention,” the institute said.
In the last few years China has gone from providing only a handful of UN peacekeepers to today deploying three times as many uniformed personnel to UN peace operations as the USA, the UK and Russia combined.
China is now the 14th largest personnel contributor to UN peace operations in the world, with only one Western country, Italy, deploying more.
The largest number are deployed in Sudan with the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) and the African Union-UN hybrid mission in Darfur, UNAMID.
Large numbers of Chinese troops (mainly medical, engineering and transport units) are deployed with the UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), with the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Chinese civilian police units are mostly deployed with the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
“As China’s national interests have become more global in scope, it has been increasingly willing to commit its peacekeeping resources in a growing number of conflict zones and to engage constructively with the international community on peacekeeping,” said SIPRI Director Dr Bates Gill, a co-author of the report.
The report suggests that for China, increased involvement in multilateral peacekeeping offers a way to reshape its international profile and increase its sway in the UN Security Council. It also provides China’s security forces with valuable operational experience in the field and opportunities to learn how other militaries operate. It may also be seen as a way to boost demand for Chinese military equipment and a chance to show off the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army.
Africa in focus
Peacekeeping deployments in Africa, where most UN peacekeepers are concentrated, have increased by 400 per cent since 1999.
The report argues that China could be a major provider of material and financial resources, along with expert training in peacekeeping, for African countries and regional organisations like the African Union. However, the report also warns that conflicting interests among Chinese policymakers and businesses related to Africa could undo much of the good work achieved by peacekeeping.
“China has realised that peace is the key to African development, and it is as keen as everyone else to position itself as a favoured development partner for African countries,’ says Chin-hao Huang, the report’s other co-author. ‘This is good news for both African and UN peacekeeping.”
Among the report’s recommendations for the international community are for European partners and the USA to invite China to participate in or at least observe peacekeeping exercises, possibly including exercises conducted by NATO and NATO partner countries. “This could help to build and improve China’s capacities in the area of peacekeeping,” SIPRI said.
The report’s advice for China includes better coordinating its policies on peacekeeping and making a larger contribution to the UN’s peacekeeping budget. SIPRI also argues that China should help to fill some of the remaining gaps in the UN’s peacekeeping capabilities by providing, among other assets, combat troops.