China, already the largest contributor to U.N. peacekeeping operations of all the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, will contribute 8,000 more troops to a standby force.
In addition, China will provide $100 million in military assistance for African Union peacekeeping missions in the next five years, and $1 billion to a 10-year joint China-U.N. peace and development fund, China’s President Xi Jinping told the U.N. General Assembly Monday, SouthChinaMorningPost reports.
The standby peacekeeping force is a significant increase from China’s current 3,000 troops, police and technical experts deployed to U.N. peacekeeping operations, but that should not be a concern for other countries, said David Shinn, an international affairs expert at George Washington University and former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso.
“I don’t think other countries should be concerned by these announcements by China,” Shinn told the South China Morning Post. “U.N. peacekeeping operations have widespread international support. There is plenty of room for everyone.”
China contributes 2,181 police, military experts and troops to U.N. Peacekeeping missions – 17 times more than the U.S. contribution, TheDiplomat reported in April 2015. These peacekeeping forces are scattered around the world.
Its leadership in U.N. peacekeeping operations leaves many experts asking one question: Why the ramp up?
In December, a Chinese infantry battalion joined U.N. peacekeepers in South Sudan, the first time China had sent an infantry battalion on a peacekeeping mission. According to the Chinese publication Xinhuanet, it signaled “Beijing’s growing role in world affairs,” TheDiplomat reported.
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By providing military support in war-torn regions, China indicates its rise on the global stage, as it no longer restricts its power to regional affairs. The Chinese government views its rise in peacekeeping forces as commensurate with international expectations of increased Chinese involvement in promoting peace and stability. It may also be a goodwill offering after its actions in the South China Sea.
The more skeptical might disagree and claim that China is acting merely to ensure a steady supply of oil from South Sudan, TheDiplomat reported.
As of April, China had 2,637 peacekeepers deployed around the world including South Sudan, Mali, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to Li Xiuhua, deputy director of peacekeeping at China’s Ministry of Defense, FinancialTimes reports.
The largest contingent — 1,031 — is deployed in South Sudan.
“This is quite significant ramp-up in China’s peacekeeping capabilities,” said Chinese peacekeeping expert Chin-Hao Huang, professor of political science at Yale-NUS University in Singapore. With the largest army in the world, China’s efforts could go a long way towards alleviating chronic personnel shortages on U.N. deployments, he said. “What China is capable of contributing is manpower.”
China has put forces in place to protect Chinese nationals and Chinese interests in foreign countries such as South Sudan, Shinn told SouthChinaMorningPost.
“This is especially true in Africa where more than 1 million Chinese nationals currently live,” he said.
Xi tried to ease concerns over China’s military might in his General Assembly address, saying that China would maintain a peaceful development path.
China is looking for an ever-expanding global role, FinancialTimes reports. Its Navy now operates on Africa’s coast and the Mediterranean in support of rescue missions. Chinese warships were spotted off the coast of Alaska in August. Several of China’s neighbors, as well as the U.S., voiced concern over Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Xi said China is “committed to peaceful development,” FinancialTimes reports. “No matter how the international landscape may evolve and how strong China may become, China will never pursue hegemony (or) expansion of a sphere of influence.”
While China’s economic interests tend to run in parallel to their peacekeeping deployments, “one mustn’t forget that these troops are under a UN chain of command, not a Chinese one,” said Chinese peacekeeping expert Huang.
Both the U.S. and China agreed to increase their commitment to U.N. peacekeeping during a diplomatic visit by President Xi to Washington, D.C. last week, FinancialTimes reports. Leaders from more than 50 countries pledged 30,000 troops and police, as well as equipment or training for U.N. peacekeeping.
Acknowledging China’s international posture is crucial not only for improving U.S.-China relations but also for resolving disputes around the globe, TheDiplomat reported. “China has gone global – it’s time for the U.S. to recognize that.”