China’s role in the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO) in Africa

By Pamkhuila Shaiza on November 30, 2015

Africa has been one of the regions with the highest conflict rates. By joining the United Nations’ Peace keeping operations UNPKO, China has been helping the UNPKO in addressing international peace and security-related matters. Over the years, China has become one of the strongest player in resolving conflict-threats and conflict-resolutions in Africa. Her engagement in peacekeeping in terms of providing troops can be seen mainly in war-torn countries like Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and Sudan. Beijing participates as UNPKO to troubleshoot such conflict issues and maintain peace (Elochukwu, 2015). Although China’s effort is not obligatory, over the past two decades, her attitude towards Africa shows her as an unwilling participant to that of a responsible power (Ayenagbo et al., 2012; George, 2014).

Chinese troops in war torn countries of Africa

During the 1950s, UN was engaged in the legitimization of the Korean War which was seen by the Chinese as being highly aggressive in nature. Rather than pursuing such policies, China has decided to pursue a non-interference policy and adopt active policy in UN Peace keeping operations (UNPKO).  In the early 1990s’, China was engaged in sending peacekeeping troops to Somalia as part of the UN intervention (1992-1995) in view of maintaining peace and security (Ayenagbo et al., 2012; Power, Mohan and Tan-Mullins, 2012; George, 2014). She agreed in favor of peace operations for containing the conflicts related to the Somalia Civil War. The contribution towards the maintenance of peace in Somalia was in a way the starting of a new era for China towards active participation in UNPKO. During the second civil war conflict in Liberia (1999-2003), the United Nations Security Council finally proposed a UN intervention by sending peacekeeping force in Liberia (Ayenagbo et al., 2012). Prior to this, since Liberia opened up diplomatic relations with China at the expense of Taiwan and since China also shared strong economic relations with African countries as a whole, she decided to deploy peacekeeping forces as the first UN country to carry out the procedure (Ayenagbo et al., 2012; Power, Mohan and Tan-Mullins, 2012; George, 2014). The Chinese troops deployed in Liberia were rotated every 8 months and the troops’ basic work was in regard to engineering, medical services, and transportation. They helped and are still helping Liberia in terms of maintaining peace and resolving conflicts; and the UN in terms of protecting the staff and its policies followed in Liberia (Ayenagbo et al., 2012; Power, Mohan and Tan-Mullins, 2012; George, 2014). China also deployed their troops in Sudan conflict. Sudan’s Dafur province has been in conflict since 2003 between the government backed Popular Defense Forces (PDF) or Janjaweed and local Darfuri resistance movements (especially the Sudan Liberation Movement or SLM and Justice Equality Movement or JLM) for oppressing the Dafur’s non-Arab population (Ayenagbo et al., 2012). China in this case is determined to defend and protect the sovereignty of the government. Since its first expedition in Somalia, China has thus  actively participated in the UNPKO in many African countries and other countries inflicted with conflicts and civil wars like Liberia, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Sierra Leona, Western Sahara, Haiti, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Lebanon (Ayenagbo et al., 2012; Wheeler, 2013).

Relationship between China and the African nations

The relationship between China and Africa nations are tied to a depth of bilateral military cooperation between them. China in fact directly helps Africa in military training (Wheeler, 2013). In return to the training received by the Chinese peacekeepers from international contact, they also engaged themselves in training local troops (Gill and Huang, 2009; Wheeler, 2013). China trains military personnel and helps in building security of their countries. China also gives positive supports to African Union and other African regional organizations (George, 2014). As part of Chinese peacekeeping policies in Africa, the country places emphasis on the importance of the maintenance of African Union (AU) (Ayenagbo et al., 2012). Alongside the military assistance in Africa, China is known for carrying out humanitarian reform. In fact, she reportedly donated US$300,000 to African Union in 2000 and another US$400,000 in 2006 (Gill and Huang, 2009). Although these sums appears to relatively small as compared to other organizational assistance, this shows that China has the power to build the capacity of African peace infrastructures. In addition, China is coming up with the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000 which shows the extent to which China is committed towards the cause of Africa and resolution of conflicts in these regions (FOCAC, 2015). The Chinese troops of the UN and the FOCAC are known for calling for cooperation in tackling terrorism and other regional conflicts in these regions (Gill and Huang, 2009; Wheeler, 2013). In the past five years, China has strengthened its military cooperation with the African countries notably in battling conspiracy operations in antidrug smuggling operations and in peace keeping operations (Weitz, 2013). The most recent endevour of China in African peace operation is the announcement in September 2015 made by the Chinese President Xi Jinping that China will donate US$100 million to the African Union (AU) as part of military assistance, and ensure the establishment of ‘African Standby Force’ and the ‘African Capacity’ for Immediate Response to Crisis’ in the next five years (Jinping, 2015).

Chinese interest in Africa

In a nutshell, it can be stated that “Chinese military and security cooperation with African countries is a corollary to Beijing’s much greater use of soft power in advancing its interests on the African continent” (Rotberg, 2009, p. 183). It is an undeniable fact that China is becoming one of the most powerful countries in the world and with power comes responsibility. As an international player, China is expected by the United Nations and other countries to help maintain peace and security of the world. Through their  participation in Africa as part of the UNPKO peace maintenance, 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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