The mission to Mali represented a major shift in China’s peacekeeping operations. Specifically, whereas early missions had involved only logistical and medical personnel, in Mali China dispatched actual security forces to help maintain the peace. It is indeed a major breakthrough in China's participation in peacekeeping.
China has long faced criticism from the international community over its peacekeeping operations. Although China has stepped up its participation in peacekeeping missions since 2002, the international community has continued to demand more from Beijing in terms of peacekeeping.
But considering China’s low-profile diplomatic policy and the impact of the China threat theory in recent years, China has to handle this issue delicately. Besides adhering to the two principles underpinning traditional peacekeeping operations—gaining the consent of the host country and using force only in self-defense— China has been keen to gain the support of regional organizations before it will participate in its peacekeeping missions.
Domestic politics have also hindered the role China plays in peacekeeping. For instance, the Foreign and Defense Ministries have often been at odds in defining China’s proper international role. Whereas the Foreign Ministry places a high level of importance on improving China’s image on the world stage, the Defense Ministry has been less interested in whether the rest of the world sees China as being a “responsible stakeholder,” as some have termed it.
But China has become more flexible in its peacekeeping role as a result of it taking broader view of its security interests. In China today, for instance, more and more people are aware of the importance of the country’s participation in peacekeeping missions. Deploying China’s first-ever security peacekeeping forces to Mali nicely illustrates China’s newfound adaptability, and it has likely set a precedent that will be heeded in future missions.
So far, more than 2,000 Chinese peacekeepers have been in peacekeeping operations in nine different mission zones. China has also provided the most peacekeepers among all permanent members of the UN Security Council, and will soon be the sixth largest contributor to the UN peacekeeping budget. According to the Permanent Mission of the PRC to the UN, China's contribution to the UN peacekeeping budget will increase from just over 3 percent of the total budget today, to more than 6 percent by 2015.
While Chinese peacekeepers have a positive influence on China’s international image, many believe that Beijing can get more “bang for its buck” when participating in peacekeeping missions. China’s peacekeeping program should focus not only on increasing the quantity of its contributions, but also on improving the quality as well. To do this China should not only participate as an ordinary participant, but also help shape the nature of how and what peacekeeping missions are performed by the international community.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
World Affairs Analyst
Photo-Credit-UN-Female members of Chinese peacekeeping force for Liberia