Source: China Daily 2013-12-24
Peacekeeping missions in Africa have a Dual role
When Chinese peacekeepers flew to Mali early this month on an eight-month mission, it was the 30th time that China has taken part in United Nations peacekeeping operations since 1990.
In the past, Chinese peacekeepers were sent to repair roads and bridges and build airports and other infrastructure. This time, 35 soldiers joined the peacekeepers to carry out security duties. Their chief responsibility is implementing safety and security for the United Nations mission in Mali. Over the past few years, China's support for UN peacekeeping operations in Africa has continued to grow, while maintaining its own characteristics.
Operations in Africa have a dual mission. First, they demonstrate China's commitment to the UN peacekeeping cause; Second, the Chinese mission in Africa is part of the China-Africa cooperation strategy. The two have a common goal, which is to promote peace and stability in Africa, and to help it with economic and social development.
As part of the UN's African peacekeeping force, Chinese troops' primary task is to assume the responsibility in keeping with China's image as a world power. In recent years, as China's power has grown, there has been a greater expectation internationally for it to fulfill its responsibilities. It has become the moral threshold that China must cross as a world power. Africa, as a continent made up of developing countries and least-developed countries, and a region troubled by conflict and instability, has become the focus of UN peacekeeping operations.
These two factors combined have made China's participation in peacekeeping operations in Africa logical. According to China's white paper on national defense issued in April, among the current UN peacekeeping operations, the number of personnel, military types China has dispatched and the funds it has provided are more than that of the other four permanent members of the Security Council. That has drawn deserved praise for the country.
Meanwhile, missions in Africa accounted for the largest proportion of UN peacekeeping operations that China is taking part in. Given a variety of factors, such as political instability, ethnic conflict and development issues in Africa, the UN peacekeeping operations there can best embody international responsibility. China's effective participation undoubtedly proves its ability and courage to bear its responsibility as a major power.
The Chinese peacekeepers are usually composed of engineering, transport and medical teams whose main tasks are to help build infrastructure such as roads and bridges in areas of peacekeeping, as well as provide medical care and other humanitarian operations and material support. Such contributions tend to be more conducive to avoiding conflicts, which helps alleviate and eliminate difficulties and problems.
China's African mission is an example of how peacekeeping operations for emerging economies fulfill its international obligations, and of the practice of the Chinese philosophy of a harmonious world. In Africa, traditional peacekeeping operations are generally executed through the economic and military strength of Western countries.
As former colonial masters, their operations in Africa are built on the basis of their existing military presence or military control. These countries already have military bases there, and they have other interests with certain African countries, or certain governments, so their peacekeeping operations are often interest-oriented. However, the emerging economies pay more attention to the role of the UN, and their peacekeeping missions in Africa are mainly originated through UN peacekeeping mechanisms. China, India and Brazil have shown this characteristic. For China, its harmonious-world concept aims to build a multipolar world where everyone works together. China's participation in peacekeeping in Africa better reflects this concept.
China's peacekeeping in Africa is also in line with the country's diplomatic strategy in Africa. Since the establishment of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2000, peace and security cooperation has been an important part of the framework. After the Beijing Action Plan took effect in 2006, China began to explore multiple ways to carry out counter-terrorism and security cooperation with African countries.
The 2009 Action Plan clearly states that the two sides will strengthen cooperation in the fight against terrorism. During the fifth ministerial conference of the forum last year, China put forward a proposal in support of peace and development in Africa in five key areas.
China will launch a China-Africa peace and security partnership initiative next year to deepen cooperation with the African Union and other African countries to provide funds to support African Union peacekeeping operations to put together non-standing armies, and to increase training for African Union peace and security officials and peacekeepers.
In addition, China is still fighting pirates, preventing the proliferation of small arms and promoting denuclearization. It has also taken part in post-war construction in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, South Sudan, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and provided aid, investment, concessional loans or debt relief to help African countries in restoration projects.
China's comprehensive participation in UN peacekeeping operations in Africa is conducive to economic development and social stability in the continent. It is one of the country's most important contributions to Africa and the world.
The author is a researcher at the Institute of West Asian and African Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.