The Chinese peacekeepers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 July, 2006, 12:00am

A five-minute primer on an issue making headlines

The death of a People's Liberation Army soldier in southern Lebanon last week highlighted China's increased participation in United Nations peacekeeping forces.

How long has China been part of the UN's peacekeeping missions?

The UN itself has been trying to keep the peace in the world's flashpoints since 1948 when, ironically, the UN Palestinian truce supervision force was sent to the Middle East. It was not until 1988 that China got involved, joining the organisation's special peacekeeping committee. Two years later the first Chinese military observers went to the Middle East and in 1992 the nation's first 'blue helmet' troops - a company of engineers - headed for peacekeeping duties in Cambodia.

Why did it take so long for China to become involved?

China did not join the UN until 1971, and at that point adamantly opposed peacekeeping operations, refusing to commit money, resources or personnel because of the government's adherence to a strict definition of sovereignty and concern about the potential for scrutiny of China's domestic affairs.

How many Chinese personnel have been involved in UN peacekeeping operations?

Since the first mission in Cambodia, China has sent almost 6,000 troops and policemen to help UN operations in 15 trouble spots. They mainly provide engineering, medical and transportation support. According to the government, there are now more than 1,400 soldiers serving in Lebanon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Sudan. Next month 125 civilian anti-riot police will be sent to Haiti, the fourth Chinese unit sent there since 2000. Police are now stationed in trouble spots including Kosovo, East Timor and Afghanistan.

Was Lieutenant-Colonel Du Zhaoyu the first Chinese soldier to be killed on a UN peacekeeping mission?

No. Eight military personnel have died on UN duty since 1990 and dozens more have been wounded. The overall UN peacekeeping death toll stands at almost 2,000. Although each death is tragic, analysts say they reinforce China's commitment to the UN cause. Du was one of 180 Chinese officers, observers and soldiers in Lebanon as part of the UN mission.