China has made a significant contribution to international peace and security in the 25 years it has been taking part in United Nations peacekeeping operations. People's Liberation Army personnel have built and repaired more than 8,000km of roads, defused 8,700 landmines and other explosive devices and treated in excess of 60,000 patients. The missions are an important facet of the nation's soft power; praise has been won and goodwill generated. Strengthening and deepening participation is in the interests of Beijing and the world.
None of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council contributes more personnel to peacekeeping operations than China. At the end of April, 2,180 Chinese troops were involved in nine mission zones, mostly in Africa. China's contribution to the UN peacekeeping budget will increase from just over 3 per cent of the total to 6 per cent by next year. But perhaps the most dramatic shift came last December when combat forces were sent to Mali; a foreign policy centred on principles of sovereignty and non-intervention was for the first time set aside to help bring stability to a country threatened by political upheaval and militants.
Expanding international influence and presence demands adaptability and change. While Chinese national interests have to be protected, China also has to be a reliable and responsible member of the global community. Contributing to security missions and using diplomacy to broker peace will bring stability. There will be positive benefits for all participants.
The accolades Chinese peacekeepers have earned seem at odds with the criticism of Beijing by its neighbours involved in territorial disputes. Even-handed diplomacy and negotiations are the key to settling conflicts. Officials and soldiers will gain valuable experience from involvement in UN peacekeeping operations. Widening participation will reassure others that China is a responsible power, while furthering international understanding and respect.