The history of Chinese participation in UN peace operations
China first took on UN peacekeeping roles at the end of the 1980s. The country formally allied to join UN Special Commission on Peacekeeping Operations in 1988, and China participated in the UN Transition Assistance Group in Namibia in 1989. Since then, China has participated in dozens of UN peacekeeping operations in Africa. China has often stepped into UN peacekeeping roles when Western countries have retreated – for example, after the United States stepped back from peacekeeping roles in 1994, following a presidential decree after the US experience in Somalia. The US even set some limitations on the logistical assistance it would provide to UN peacekeeping operations.1 Almost at the same time, European countries shrank their military presence in Africa. But China’s presence has grown: according to the Chinese Defence Ministry, the country has participating in 16 UN peacekeeping operations in Africa, and by July 2016 a total of around 27,000 Chinese soldiers have been members of African blue helmet forces.2
China’s involvement in UN peacekeeping operations has taken a step-by-step approach. In the beginning, China sent only logistical and medical personnel to join UN peacekeeping forces. The principle of non-interference and the effects of the Cold War are the main reasons that shape China’s attitude toward UN peacekeeping operations. But in recent years there have been some changes in China’s foreign policy. China sent soldiers to Mali for a peacekeeping operation for the first time in 2013. It is unclear whether China intends to change its foreign and defence policy completely – policy adjustment is a long process. However, it is an indication that China is open to new methods of involvement in African security issues.
How China-UN cooperation has helped Africa
Stability is a precondition to development. Conflict has hindered socio-economic development in Africa, notably after the Cold War, when a series of disasters hit the continent – notably the genocide in Rwanda and the two Congolese civil wars (1996 to 1997, and 1998 to 2003). In the Democratic Republic of Congo, millions died in the civil wars and more were displaced. There was widespread destruction of the economy and infrastructure. Many factors cause conflict: religion, race, poverty, social injustice. However, China has realised that the main causes of African conflict are poverty and underdevelopment. The Beijing Declaration, drawn up by the China-Africa Cooperation Forum in 2000, noted that economic and social factors are the causes that lead to political instability, social tension and continuous conflict. Cooperation between China and the UN has made a contribution to lasting peace and development in Africa.
Since China began to take part in UN peacekeeping operations in Africa, it has become a constructive force. The number of Chinese peacekeeping soldiers has been increasing by a factor of 20 since 2000; most have been deployed in Africa. China has participated in almost all UN peace operations in Africa. So far, there have been around 1,800 Chinese soldiers taking part in peacekeeping operations. In addition, China promotes the African agenda in the UN Security Council. When the security situation in Somalia deteriorated in 2006, China played a key role in approving the UN Security Council Resolution 1725 and in supporting the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in organising Somali peacekeeping troops.3 China’s participation in UN peace operations in Africa has been good for African security and has helped to promote African peace and development.
Prospect of further cooperation between China and the UN
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China places a great emphasis on the UN’s role in world peace. As the largest developing country, China thinks that African security issues are a key part of world peace. So involvement in African security is about maintaining world peace.
There are many factors driving Chinese participation in UN peacekeeping operations in Africa. They include the ability to modernise the Chinese army, protect Chinese interests in Africa, and improve the country’s reputation. Like any country, China has its own interests to defend. But why has China taken a different approach to other countries?
China identifies itself as the largest developing country, and as a “responsible” developing country. This means that China acknowledges the international order and has no intention of changing that order by force. So China focuses on “peace development”. As a developing country, China also takes Africa’s interests into account. Its identity means that China will not collaborate with other powers to damage Africa’s interests. The UN is therefore a good, multilateral platform on which to defend the interests of developing countries. Maybe there is no perfect solution at the UN, but it avoids extreme answers effectively.
Cooperation between China and the UN will continue. And with changes in the international situation and the country’s growing power, China will increase its input on African security issues, including UN peacekeeping operations in Africa. In addition, some Chinese scholars will call on China to strengthen cooperation with non-governmental organisations on African security issues.
1 Edited by Oliver Furley & Roy May, Peacekeeping in Africa, Ashgate Publishing Ltd.,1998, P229.
2 See http://military.people.com.cn/n1/2016/0728/c1011-28592678.html, 2016-08-09.
3 Bates Gill & Chin-Hao Huang, “China’s Expanding Role in Peacekeeping”, SIPRI Policy Paper 25, Stockholm Peace Research Institute, November 2009, pp.14~15.
This article is part of Friends of Europe’s Discussion Paper ‘Europe, China and Africa : new thinking for a secure century ’ published in November 2016, which brings together the views of Friends of Europe’s large network of scholars, policymakers and business representatives on the future of EU-China cooperation in the security field in Africa. These articles provide insight into stakeholders’ views and recommendations as China evolves from an economic to a security player in Africa.
IMAGE CREDIT: CC / FLICKR – UNAMID