China completes registration of 8,000-strong UN peacekeeping force, defence ministry says

Expanded unit fulfils pledge made by Xi Jinping, and will give soldiers chance to experience real-life combat situations, military watchers say

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 September, 2017, 9:10pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 September, 2017, 9:10pm

China is set to play a bigger role in United Nations peacekeeping missions while also providing its military with real-life training opportunities after completing the registration of 8,000 troops last week, analysts said.

As required, the standby peacekeeping force would “conduct task-specific and adaptive training in accordance with the UN training standards,” China’s defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian said on Thursday.

Its members were drawn from six infantry battalions, two multi-purpose helicopter platoons, two transport companies, he said, adding that for the first time ever, the group would include an unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, unit.

The registration process was completed on September 22, he said.

China’s President Xi Jinping promised to make 8,000 troops available to the UN in 2015, at which time he also offered to help train 2,000 peacekeepers from other countries, provide US$100 million in military aid to the African Union, and deploy more engineering, transport and medical personnel.

The increased numbers of military troops is indicative of Beijing’s desire to play a bigger role in global policing.

According to figures from Xinhua, China’s first UN force, of 400 engineering corps, was dispatched in August 1992, while at the end of last month it had 2,466 troops on active duty for the global agency.

In recent years, Chinese military personnel have taken part in UN missions in Cambodia, the Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Sudan and Lebanon. In 2015, a combat deployment was sent to South Sudan, where China has significant oil investments.

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Miwa Hirono, a professor of Chinese international relations at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, said the composition of the new peacekeeping force represented a “comprehensive contribution that ... reflects the current challenges peacekeepers have”.

China had chosen to deploy more peacekeeping forces to represent itself as a “responsible great power,” while indirectly protecting its own interests, she said.

“Maintaining peace and security in conflict areas has become a really important challenge for China because [it] has a lot of assets and people in those places,” Hirono said.

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When China sent a security force to Mali as part of a peacekeeping mission in 2013, it triggered questions as to whether it was straying from its non-intervention policy on foreign affairs.

Antony Wong Dong, a Macau-based military expert, said the new peacekeeping force comprised marine, air and land forces capable of conducting joint operations.

“Beijing wants to use the peacekeeping missions to train PLA [People’s Liberation Army] soldiers, who have never been engaged in real battles,” he said.

“The missions will help to test their fighting capability.”

Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at Renmin University in Beijing, agreed that overseas missions would provide a good training opportunity, while also showcasing China’s presence on the global stage.

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The government has frequently cited the peacekeeping force as an example of how “China is bearing the international responsibilities of a great power”, he said.

Marc Lanteigne, a security studies lecturer at Massey University in New Zealand, said that while China had initially been reluctant to engage with UN peacekeeping operations – seeing them as a revisionist tool of Western powers – over the past two decades, it had become one of its strongest proponents.

“It’s a product of China really wanting to demonstrate that it is a great power, and not only interested in resource diplomacy,” he said.

Additional reporting by Minnie Chan