Four mainland police officers to join Haiti peace force

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 January, 2010, 12:00am

The mainland is sending four police officers to bolster its peacekeeping force in Haiti, where a devastating earthquake claimed eight of their colleagues last week.

The magnitude-7 earthquake was responsible for the greatest single loss of life in the history of mainland involvement in UN peacekeeping missions, but observers say it also provides Beijing with a prime opportunity to burnish its image as a responsible world power.

They said United Nations peacekeeping missions would provide a useful stage for a central government that was eager to expand its international clout but cautious about provoking 'China threat' complaints.

The deployment of the four police officers will take the number of Chinese peacekeepers in Haiti to 121.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said yesterday that Beijing would consider sending more peacekeepers. 'The UN has passed a resolution to increase peacekeeping deployment to Haiti, but negotiation and discussion are needed to execute the resolution,' he said.

The mainland has sent a 60-strong rescue team to Haiti and its state-controlled Red Cross has pledged to donate US$1 million in cash. Ma said Beijing would continue to provide relief and reconstruction assistance.

The announcement of the new deployment came a day after the eight peacekeepers who died in Haiti were given a high-profile funeral in Beijing, with most central government leaders paying their respects at Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery.

State media launched a massive campaign to mourn the loss of the eight officers. The Ministry of Public Security, which administers peacekeeping police officers, ordered that flags be lowered to half-mast for three days.

When their bodies were repatriated to Beijing on Tuesday, several major roads in the capital were blocked to ensure smooth traffic for their hearses and the security of the mainland's ninth-ranked leader, Zhou Yongkang, who greeted the coffins at the airport.

Such treatment was unusual for mainland peacekeepers, said Niu Zhongjun, an associate professor of international relations at the China Foreign Affairs University.

Before the Haiti earthquake, the mainland had lost eight peacekeepers in previous missions.

'There has been a lot of talk and media coverage, partly because previous sacrifices were all from PLA peacekeeping troops. This is the first time police officers died in peacekeeping missions,' he said.

Most UN peacekeepers from the mainland were People's Liberation Army soldiers, Niu said, with police officers making up the remainder.

'This also provides a prime opportunity for the Chinese government to promote itself as a responsible country that is willing to make sacrifices for world peace,' he said.

With some 2,000 peacekeepers on missions every year, the mainland's peacekeeping effort has increased significantly from less than 1,000 in 2002. 'This has become a major platform for China to raise its international influence,' Niu said.

Richard Hu Weixing, director of the department of politics and public administration at the University of Hong Kong, said upholding the legitimacy of the efforts of international groups, such as UN peacekeeping missions, provided China with a safe platform to expand its influence. 'As a rising power, China has to be careful about its image, otherwise it will attract criticism,' Hu said.