Expanding role of China in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO)

By Pamkhuila Shaiza on November 21, 2015

Peacekeeping has been defined by the United Nations (UN) as creating conditions for sustainable temporary or lasting peace in areas and countries which has been torn apart by war and conflict (Agubamah, 2014). The peace-keeping operations follow the mandate of the United Nations and also work in consent with the conflicting parties. Historically speaking, the peacekeeping activities was carried out by the United Nations for the first time during the Cold War to keep peace between conflicting countries by sending unarmed or light military troops under the UN command. Under Chapter V, Article 24 and Chapter VII of the UN Security Council Charter, the peacekeeping or maintenance of peace is in the hands of the Security Council (The United Nations Organisation, 1945).

China’s role in peacekeeping

China’s involvement with this UN peace keeping operations can be broadly divided into two – the Cold War period (1950s to 1970s) and the Post Cold War period (1980s to Present) (Elochukwu, 2015). During the Cold War period, China engaged herself in giving technical assistance and arms to some pro-Being countries as well as to independence movements. However, China suffered in terms of trusts in her UN peacekeeping activities, since the West distrust the communist policies. The post Cold War period saw the Chinese toning down their communist ideologies and embracing the Western ideologies for cooperative network. The West in turn also became more tolerant of the communist policies. The post Cold War saw China using economic and non-economic tools to help promote peace in conflict zones. Recently, the 9/11 attack and terrorist incidents has made many countries including China to look forward to maintenance of peace and security (Ayenagbo et al., 2012).

China is reported to have deployed troops to UNPKO for the first time in 1989, when she sent 20 Chinese military observers as part of the UN Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) (Gill and Huang, 2009; Wheeler, 2013). These Chinese troops were part of the UN troops who monitored elections in Namibia. Later in 1990, they also sent five Chinese military observers to support the UN Truce Supervision Organization in the Middle East (Gill and Huang, 2009; Wheeler, 2013). From 199-1993, they sent its first military units as part of UNPKO in UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) (Gill and Huang, 2009; Wheeler, 2013). These units consist of two separate contingents with 400 engineering troops each. They were also accompanied by 49 military observers to UNTAC. From the 1990s, China has increasingly changed their active involvement in UNPKO. The steady growth of troops deployed by China increased by years and in 2009, there were as many as 2155 Chinese peacekeepers deployed in various regions. By 2009, China was ranked as the largest contributor of peacekeeping troops (Gill and Huang, 2009; Wheeler, 2013). Many of the Chinese troops deployed for UNPKO consist of engineers, transport or medical support groups and civilian police and military observers. In 2014, it was reported that the Chinese contributed as much as 2,078 troops as part of UNPKO, which went up to 3,082 by the middle of 2015 (Putten, 2015). This shows a remarkable 50% increment of troops within a year, showing China’s increasing power as well as becoming a prominent figure in maintenance of peace. Of course the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s announcement in his UN address in September 2015 that China will be proving peacekeeping standby force of 8,000 troops to UNPKO will make China to become the largest players in UN Peace efforts, as well as a power in international peace keeping role in the coming days (Martina and Brunnstrom, 2015).

Challenges faced by China in peacekeeping

Provision of troops however does not mean that they are without difficulties. In 2007, Lieutenant General Zhang Qinsheng, who is the Deputy Chief of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) stated that although troops are being deployed, China faces many challenges like peacekeeping capabilities (Gill and Huang, 2009). To increase the caliber of the troops, China is seeking international contacts, which are linked to peacekeeping training and other UN security and military cooperation. This would require her to pursue “increasing commitment to UNPKO, training capabilities improvement, increasing participation in international cooperation and exchange activities, and large and ever increasing contribution of both military and police units” (Ayenagbo et al., 2012, p. 24).

Currently, China is the ninth largest contributor of troops to UN peace keeping system (Putten, 2015). Majority of these Chinese troops are located in Africa, where most of the UN missions are located. Through its engagement in United Nations peace keeping operations (UNPKO), China has developed a distinctive diplomatic approach in coming out from its low profile in global affairs (Agubamah, 2014; Putten, 2015). In what can be regard as the greatest move in UNPKO, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced in his UN address in September 2015 that China is going to establish a US$1 billion China-UN development fund for advancing peace and development (Jinping, 2015; Martina and Brunnstrom, 2015). He also stated that China will increase their support of the UNPKO by “setting up a permanent peacekeeping police squad and build a peacekeeping standby force of 8,000 troops” (Jinping, 2015). The application and functioning of this announcement will make China to become the largest players in UN Peace efforts, as well as a power in international peace keeping role (Martina and Brunnstrom, 2015).

Benefits for China from the operations

Thus, China has increasingly become involved in UNPKO projects but what does this UNPKO meant to China and to the World? In a critical estimation of the China’s involvement in UNPKO, Steven Kou (Kuo, 2015) asserted that the China feels that protecting sovereignty of other countries is a necessity since she also suffered in the hands of the Western colonialism till the end of the World War. Another inhibition is that such global participation will help China to solve the Taiwan issues. Others like Robert Rotberg asserted that China has her own intention of providing military and security cooperation, aside from humanitarian help. She maximizes or gives assistance to those countries which have high rate of exports in terms of oil and raw materials (Rotberg, 2009). Keeping aside such critical estimates, China no doubt can be seen as doing her own role in promoting world peace and security. For China, this means that cooperation with the UN will bring immense boost to her image in playing prominent role on addressing international peace and security-related matters. Internally, participation in UNPKO also means that it provides skills and professionalism to the PLA through training and field deployment. But most importantly, the participation of China in UNPKO shows that by taking more responsibilities, China is ready to play its part in maintaining its power and in providing peace and security in the international playground.


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