ISSN 2330-717X

The Charm Offensive: Peacekeeping And Policy In China – Analysis


By Marissa Gibson*


In the aftermath of the Second World War, the nations of the world made a pledge to prevent the recurrence of such a global tragedy, and although this pledge had been made before, the United Nations (UN) promised to be something stronger than its predecessor, the League of Nations. Founded in 1945, the United Nations was an international forum meant to maintain the international order, and the powers vested in its Charter gave it a unique international character that assisted it in maintaining and protecting international peace and security. It is the UN Security Council (UNSC) that holds this responsibility. Comprised of 15 members, including 5 permanent members: the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China, the UNSC may take collective action in order to maintain international peace and security, as authorized in Chapters VI and VII of the UN Charter. These actions are manifested in the form of peacekeeping operations, which are staffed by troops of UN member states under UN operational control. Peacekeeping operations emerged in the early-1950s as a response to a growing number of border disputes that were sparked by decolonization processes and the need for a mediating body to assist in the implementation of cease-fire agreements or political settlements to these international conflicts.1

China was originally represented in the UN Security Council by the Republic of China from 1945-1970, but for the purposes of this article, focus will be centred upon the People’s Republic of China (China) as involvement in peacekeeping operations by China did not occur until its formal recognition as the rightful representative of China by General Assembly Resolution 2758 in 1971. Following the induction of the nation into the UNSC, China maintained a significant distance from peacekeeping missions for nearly two decades. It viewed the missions with a degree of skepticism and chose to maintain a low profile whilst refraining from taking any notable actions in UNSC debates on peacekeeping.2 This is in part due to China’s strong views with respect to the inviolable nature of state sovereignty, and concern that peacekeeping was a pretext for the intervention of a great power in the affairs of small states. China demonstrated its opposition to the missions by not participating in UNSC votes on peacekeeping missions, not paying its annual peacekeeping contributions, and denying the use of troops for ongoing operations.3

The development of China’s participation in peacekeeping operations has been in line with its foreign policy goals. Peacekeeping and foreign policy have grown increasingly linked since the 1970s, and an argument will be made that both have impacted the development of the other. Peacekeeping has emerged as an effective foreign policy tool for the Chinese government, and has helped to build an image of a rising power with peaceful intentions, as well as helping to establish stronger connections with other developing states, particularly in Africa, as an economic and military partner. Peacekeeping also provides a means for the Chinese armed forces to cultivate and build upon existing military capabilities. The intent is to demonstrate the important role peacekeeping plays in presenting China in a way to help alleviate Western concerns of a potential economic and military rival.

There are two key items that should be noted: first, UN peacekeeping operations (PKO) are understood in this context to include all peace-related activities, which includes peacebuilding, peacemaking, and peace enforcement unless otherwise specified; second, United Nations peacekeeping according to M. Taylor Fravel, an Associate Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who specializes on international security and China, can be divided into traditional and non-traditional operations. This distinction is important when considering China’s changing attitude towards peacekeeping, because China initially only supported traditional operations, but has since relaxed its stance regarding non-traditional deployments. Traditional UN operations are outlined by four central guidelines: (1) the impartiality of the force and its commander, (2) the consent of the host country or belligerent parties, (3) the non-use of force except in cases of self-defence, and (4) their establishment only after the conclusion of a cease-fire agreement.4 Non-traditional peacekeeping follows by negative definition, and operations are established (1) in the absence of a political settlement, (2) without the consent of all parties to the conflict, (3) with the authorization to use force, or (4) under national (not UN) command.5

China and Peacekeeping

Spanning more than four thousand years, China has one of the longest recorded military histories in the world. Chinese armies have changed and evolved with the times and have contributed both technological advancements and strategic thought to the development of the world’s armies. As the owners of the world’s oldest military treatise, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, China has continued to develop and expand its rich military tradition. Currently, the People’s Republic of China controls the world’s largest armed force, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which was founded in 1927 at the start of the Chinese Civil War and has its roots as a peasant guerrilla force. The PLA includes a navy, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), and air force, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). Despite over two decades’ experience in guerilla fighting against both the Nationalist Party of China and the Japanese, the PLA has remained relatively untested in conventional warfare.

Mao Zedong with Red Army soldiers on the Long March, 1935. The march was a military retreat undertaken by the Red Army of the Communist Party of China, the forerunner of the People’s Liberation Army, to evade the pursuit of the ruling Kuomintang Army.

The formation of the UN called for a new world order that would seek to prevent conflict before it occurred and to mitigate damages when it did. Peacekeeping was the order of business, and China’s attitude towards this new form of intervention has undergone a number of changes since the state formally joined the UN. Dr. Courtney J. Fung (nee Richardson), an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Hong Kong, and Yin He, an Associate Professor at the China Peacekeeping CIVPOL Training Center, outline five phases of China’s developing relationship with PKOs.

From 1971 to 1980, China opposed creating and continuing PKOs, refused both financial and troop contributions, and abstained from voting on all resolutions regarding peacekeeping missions.6 According to He, the primary reason for China’s abstention was “ideological disagreement with the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.”7 China viewed peacekeeping as a way for superpower’s to intervene in the domestic affairs of smaller states in pursuit of their own interests. China was a strong advocate of the Westphalian norms of state sovereignty and non-intervention, and as the only developing nation of the Permanent Five (P5) there were expectations from other developing states that China would help protect their interests in the international arena.8 During this period, China never vetoed a UNSC resolution to obstruct a peacekeeping mission for two fundamental reasons: it did not want to be seen as taking sides by voting for any resolutions that might serve the interests of either superpower who might use peacekeeping as a guise for intervention, and it did not want to be regarded as an obstructionist or to displease relevant developing nations that might have an interest in the passing of such resolutions, as China was seen as their representative.9

From 1981 to 1987, the world saw the beginning of a shift in China’s attitude towards peacekeeping. For the first time, in 1981, China voted in favour of UNSC Resolution 495, which extended the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, and in the following year, China began to make financial contributions. However, it continued to refrain from sending troops,10 and remained apprehensive on issues of state sovereignty and intervention. This gradual opening can be attributed to the 1978 succession of Deng Xiaoping in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), who saw the UN as an “…organization that could serve as an ideal platform to broaden its global horizon and create a favourable international environment for its prioritized economic development reform policy.”11

The late-1980s to the late-1990s saw a marked increase in Chinese deployments to UN peacekeeping missions, including operations in Namibia (United Nations Transition Assistance Group), the Middle East (United Nations Truce Supervision Organization), Cambodia (United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia), Iraq-Kuwait (United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission), Mozambique (United Nations Operation in Mozambique), and Liberia (United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia). In 1988, it became a member of the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, and in May 1997, China agreed to participate in the UN Standby Arrangement System (UNSAS). The Special Committee reports to the General Assembly and provides a comprehensive review of all issues related to peacekeeping, an important step for China that demonstrated its desire to become more involved in the monitoring of peacekeeping missions. UNSAS highlighted China’s acknowledgement of the UN’s need for troops at short notice to combat threats to international peace and security. From 1988 to 1998, thirty-six PKOs were established, and China voted in favour for all that were conducted under a traditional peacekeeping framework, or were peacebuilding missions. China’s voting attitude on resolutions that authorized the use of force became somewhat more flexible in this third phase.12 Between 1992 and 1996, China abstained 7 times and voted in favour another 7 times for peacekeeping missions under a non-traditional operation. In particular, its voting behaviour towards Iraq, Cambodia, and Somalia reflected its increasingly flexible attitude towards Westphalian norms.

From the end of the 1990s until 2009, China became even more flexible in its views of Westphalian norms of state sovereignty and non-intervention than before, and demonstrated an active policy towards PKOs.13 Chinese troops deployed to a growing list of nations that included Haiti, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), East Timor, Lebanon, and Sudan, to name a few. From 2003-2010, China saw a sixteen-fold increase14 in personnel contributions, from 120 troops in January 2003 to 2,137 in February 2010, across a number of trades such as engineer battalions, police units, medical teams, and transportation companies,15 and the nation has emerged as an active organizer for peacekeeping-related international activities. In 2003, China indicated that its experience with UN PKO had led to a departure from their adherence to the concept of traditional peacekeeping: “Given the growing complexity of operations, traditional operations were no longer suited for certain types of conflict; the situations in the DRC and in Liberia, for example, had highlighted the need for rapid, early and robust intervention.”16

Fung introduces a fifth phase not covered by He, spanning from 2010 to the present. She argues the beginning of this new phase is marked by China’s emerging dialogue on the deployment of combat troops to PKOs. China deployed comprehensive security forces to Mali in 2013, and in 2014, committed a battalion of combat troops to South Sudan17 equipped with drones, anti-tank missiles, and armoured carriers. More recently, China was in talks with the UN to deploy military helicopters to the peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire (United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire) which would help address a serious UN capability shortfall.18 Today, China is the top troop contributor among P5 members, a vast change from the abstinence of 45 years ago. As time has progressed, China’s attitude towards peacekeeping has become closely linked to its foreign policy and security strategy.

Foreign Policy and Peacekeeping

China’s foreign policy, according to Dr. Pang Zhongying, a Professor of International Relations at the School of International Studies, Renmin University of China in Beijing, has not been without “ambiguity and contradiction.”19 China desires a bigger role in the global arena to increase its influence in world politics, but has played a relatively limited role in peacekeeping.20

The initial shift in attitude in the early-1980s can be attributed to the rise of Deng Xiaoping, who offered “…a new paradigm of growth and prosperity for China and aligned its economic policies with the global economy.”21 In contrast to Mao Zedong’s China, Deng moved the nation towards a more open and accepting view of the world order, which was increasingly focused upon globalization and building international markets. He launched major economic reforms to gain access to international trade, aid, investment, and technology, and Deng and the CCP viewed the UN as a platform to broaden their global horizon and build relationships with others in the international community. Prior to that, China’s closed-door policy and focus upon internal development hindered its participation in Security Council decisions and ensured skepticism towards the legitimacy of intervention of previous peacekeeping missions. As China moved towards a more market-oriented economy, foreign policy changed to reflect this more open relationship with the world, and particularly the West. Of note was China’s interest in separating from the strategic triangle composed of itself, the U.S. and U.S.S.R., in an effort to re-establish and re-emphasize its position as an important country in the developing world.22

In the wake of the Cold War and the backlash of the Tiananmen Square incident, the 1990s saw another shift in Chinese foreign policy. The country was developing at a rapid rate with economic expansion into global markets and a military power focused upon modernization, making the United States and its Western allies concerned about a potential rising threat. The China threat theory that emerged in the 1990s was a Western response to the rapid growth and expansion of the nation, and maintained that China would use its burgeoning power to destabilize regional security and pose a very real challenge to the current American hegemony.23 “[China’s] ambitious program of PLA modernization, its proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and arms sales to rogue states, and its increasingly assertive posture in the region sent alarm bells ringing.”24 Chinese deployments to UN peacekeeping operations increased during this period in response to its enhanced international profile, which required it to take a more active role in international politics and the UN.25 This engagement in PKOs was meant to assuage concerns of China’s rise and the country would reiterate its advocacy of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence and acknowledge the importance of multilateralism rather than multi-polarity.26

In the 21st Century, China has continued to present itself, not as a threat, but rather, as a responsible power concerned with peaceful development. Its attitude towards peacekeeping since the 2000s has demonstrated that it is a “cooperative, system-maintaining state”27 in international society. By making the effort to project itself as a non-threatening power, China has framed itself as a responsible power and it uses peacekeeping as a medium to solidify this image. Using the term responsible power allows China to redefine its role in relation to other states, and provides four key benefits, as argued by Courtney Richardson (now Fung).28 First, and most importantly, China is able to “proactively frame the discourse regarding its role in peacekeeping… and thereby shape perceptions and expectations of its position in the UN peacekeeping regime and international system.”29 Second, using the term creates a distinction between China and the Western notion of the “international community”, because even by being a member of that community, China presents itself as a non-Western, non-imperialist developing state that is a permanent member of the Security Council and able to provide funds and high-impact enabler units, such as engineering, logistic, and medical units, to peacekeeping missions.30 Third, China can circuitously update the meaning of responsible power to coincide with current conceptions of the international system, and in the post-1945 international system, China’s perceptions regarding international politics have changed significantly.31 Fourth, responsible power highlights China as an atypical great power, focused upon peaceful development, and its intention not to destabilize international politics for the sake of its own national interests.32

Richardson is not the only author to draw attention to the responsible power image that China is projecting. However, as Courtney J. Fung, she further argues that “…responsible power enables China to emphasize that though it is a great power and should be regarded with that status, it views itself as an atypical example.”33 Yin He also notes that the responsible power image demonstrates China’s increasing awareness of the international expectations for its participation in international affairs, while helping to ease concerns regarding the China threat theory.34 China’s responsible power and peaceful development reveal its growing confidence in both domestic and international fields. Peacekeeping plays into this image by presenting China as a nation concerned with promoting international peace and security while also helping to blunt criticisms of the nation’s defence spending and military modernization, since the PLA is seen as a contributing force.

Since the 2000s, China’s rise has continued to expand its global reach, and Beijing has made a cautious effort to project the idea that it does not threaten the world.35 Peacekeeping and support of PKOs has not only demonstrated China’s support for multilateral solutions, but has also served its strategic interests as a non-threatening nation. By supporting the UN and deploying troops, China sends a message to the global community that it is invested in mission success, that the UN is the best venue to practice multilateralism, and that it shares common concerns for peace and security. China has also participated in a number of peacekeeping training events and exchanges with other countries, and these bilateral and multilateral exchanges allow China to explore future prospects for international cooperation in peacekeeping, creating channels of dialogue between China and concerned neighbours, and help China to be accepted as a positive international actor.36

Peacekeeping also presents an opportunity to build relations with other developing nations and to secure its own interests, a topic that frequently emerges when discussing China’s peacekeeping involvement in Africa, and one that often turns to China’s involvement in Sudan. China has participated in more peacekeeping operations in Africa than in any other region, a reflection of its keen interest in the continent. United States Marines Land Force Planner Colonel Philippe Rogers argues that “…China uses what it calls an ‘independent foreign policy’ to achieve considerable influence in Africa,”37 securing the diplomatic, military, and economic influence of a host nation, in return for unconditional foreign aid – no matter the human rights record or political nature of the beneficiary. By investing in the security and stability of Africa, China is able to garner a number of advantages: increased support for its “One China” policy; securement of its energy future, commerce, and military-industrial complex; and advancement of its international agenda.38

The nature of the Sino-Sudanese relationship is complicated at best. China is perceived to be a part of the problem behind two civil wars: one between Arab northern Sudan and Christian southern Sudan (1983-2005); and the other involving the Darfur region (2003-present).39 Darfur is considered to be one of the greatest humanitarian disasters of the early-21st Century, and Western restrictions of oil exports (and other sanctions) to the nation has led the Sudanese government to forge closer relations with China. China is thus seen as focused upon obtaining access to oil and by extension supporting the Khartoum government and Omar al-Bashir.

Initially, Sudan denied UN peacekeeping intervention, but international pressure on China regarding its relationship with Sudan led the nation to counsel Sudan to accept a UN presence. Established in July 2007, the African Union/United Nations Hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID) is a Chapter VII peacekeeping mission that works to contribute to the restoration of security and protection of civilians.40 China’s voting history regarding UNSC Resolutions aimed at Sudan and the situation in Darfur had gone from predominantly abstention to forceful advocating of UNAMID. However, China still adhered to the tenants of the UN Charter and its own principles of state sovereignty and non-intervention, and would only support the mission with Sudan’s consent. Sudan eventually accepted the mission, but withdrew consent in March 2007, and the international community turned to China to leverage the impasse between Sudan and the UN.41

As the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games approached, China found itself at the centre of international attention. Not only was there pressure from political groups to resolve the Darfur crises, but humanitarian agencies and human rights watchdogs were rebranding the Beijing Games as the ‘Genocide Olympics.’42 The appointment of veteran Ambassador Liu Guijin as Special Representative for African Affairs represented a positive shift in the disagreement, and by May 2007 he had managed to secure Sudan’s compliance, and Resolution 1769 was passed at the end of July bringing UNAMID to life. After repeatedly denying access to foreign troops, it was Chinese engineering units who became the first non-African Union (AU) troops to arrive in Darfur.43

Courtney Fung argues that China was motivated by more than economic interest and even by reputation. For China to emerge successfully as a responsible power, it needed to demonstrate its ability to two key reference groups in this situation: the African Union and the permanent members of the UNSC. The AU represents China’s Global South image, whereas the UNSC represents its great power image.44 Darfur represented an excellent opportunity for China to support multilateral peacekeeping efforts to both the AU and UN, despite the arguably rising tensions between China and Sudan and the robust peacekeeping mandate that potentially put Chinese lives at risk while on deployment. Fung further states that image concerns were the primary motivator in China’s actions to counsel Sudan into accepting UNAMID, and that China was “…disinterested in continually siding with Sudan, at the cost of relations with its reference groups.”45

Darfur represents a significant departure from China’s peacekeeping opinion of the 1970s. Its active participation in a Chapter VII-mandated PKO and its willingness to use its considerable influence over Sudan to accept a peacekeeping mission have come a long way from its history as a state that strongly supported state sovereignty and non-intervention. On a final note, before delving into the role of peacekeeping among China’s broader military strategy, He makes an important observation regarding this growing flexibility regarding the normative principles of state sovereignty and non-intervention. Its flexibility can be considered a double-edged sword. On one hand, flexibility can provide Beijing with more diplomatic options for dealing with international affairs, prevent unnecessary conflicts with other powers, and yield a favourable environment for its development strategy. On the other hand, when over-exploited, it will not only jeopardize China’s strategic interests regarding state-sovereignty (especially with respect to Taiwan), but also damage its image as a peace-loving power in the eyes of the developing world.46

The PLA, Defence, and Peacekeeping

The National Defence 2010 White Paper reiterated China’s ongoing commitment to UN peacekeeping operations, stating: “As a responsible major power, China has consistently supported and actively participated in the UN peacekeeping operations, making a positive contribution to world peace.”47 In China’s Military Strategy, the text outlines the increasing importance given to ensuring the PLA is prepared for peace enforcement operations and other non-combat tasks, such as the resolution of internal unrest and disaster relief. Peacekeeping presents a unique opportunity for the PLA, which has not had a significant amount of international exposure, by creating a platform for which troops can deploy and work in new environments, engage in military-to-military cooperation, improve military diplomacy, and most importantly, strengthen its own military capability. Peacekeeping has become a form of military diplomacy, used to “counter-balance Western power and to counter negative perceptions of Chinese military spending, modernization and force projection.”48

There are a number of benefits to deploying troops on peacekeeping operations, including the opportunity to gain distant operational experience as well as exposure to operational practices and methods of foreign militaries.49 Peacekeeping is considered to be a low-cost, high-return activity, with advantages such as “invaluable knowledge about logistics, ports of debarkation, lines of communications, lines of operations, operational intelligence, local atmospherics and modus operandi, and means of sustaining forces…over prolonged periods.”50 Participation over time will also help the PLA to modernize and professionalize their forces. In particular, argues Philippe Rogers, Chinese units are re-deploying to Africa multiple times and thereby building a ready force of African operational experts – something the U.S. lacks.51 Operating in Africa presents units with exposure to countries that are vastly different and difficult in comparison to deployments within China.

At the strategic level, peacekeeping and other non-combat operations have become important components of China’s international security strategy, as seen by their inclusion in recent White Papers. Updated in 2015, China’s Military Strategy speaks to the nation’s focus upon peace, development, and prosperity: “China will unswervingly follow the path of peaceful development, pursue and independent foreign policy of peace and a national defence policy that is defensive in nature, oppose hegemonies and power politics in all forms, and will never seek hegemony or expansion.”52 The White Paper stresses once again the image of peaceful development rather than a threatening rise of power, and highlights a defensive security strategy while still ensuring independent action without threatening the sovereignty of other states. The military is meant to be a staunch protector of world peace.

The National Defence 2010 White Paper reaffirms China’s support of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, which emerged out of the new relationship between China and India in 1954. They reflect much of China’s foreign and security policy decisions over the past 60 years, and can be applied to its overall image projection to the rest of the global community. The Principles call for mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, equality and cooperation for mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence.53 These principles are demonstrated in China’s decisions to predominantly support PKOs that were consented to by the host nation, and strictly adhered to the UN standard of protecting state sovereignty, although as mentioned there has been increasing flexibility regarding this as demonstrated with China’s willingness to pressure the Sudanese government into accepting a mission. UN peacekeeping by its very nature can be considered to interfere in the internal affairs of the state, an argument that has been made frequently in academic literature.54 China is more willing to make this concession because action is taken through the UN platform, and not through independent state action, alliance, or coalition.55

China has a number of goals that are central to its defence strategy. Foremost is the safeguarding of national sovereignty and the security and interests of national development, followed by the maintenance of social harmony and stability, the modernization of national defence and the armed forces, and the maintenance of world peace and stability.56 Military modernization takes up a significant amount of space within the White Paper, and “as its guiding principle for military build-up underwent a strategic shift from preparations for imminent wars to peacetime construction,”57 the PLA ensured that the modernization process were in line with the country’s overall development. The PLA, PLAN and PLAAF have all undergone transformations to improve and enhance current capabilities – most of which is focused upon increasing ‘informationization,’ building joint operation systems, improving military training, innovating political work, increasing logistical support, and developing new and high-technology weaponry and equipment.

Despite the steady improvement and expansion of its military capabilities, it has thus far limited its deployments to its own sovereign territory, its Asian maritime littoral, or under the auspices of UN peacekeeping missions in other regions.58 Apart from its UN deployments the PLA has no foreign bases or troops stationed abroad, and other than cyber-warfare, its space program, and intercontinental ballistic missiles, its global power-projection remains limited.59 Global security interests have remained relatively constrained in comparison to great powers, but there are still instances of ambitious competition, especially against the U.S. and Japan. There has also been an increase in its global presence, notably through the participation of multilateral exercises and non-traditional security areas, such as peacekeeping and disaster-relief operations.

China remains in a somewhat-conflictual relationship with its growing security and military capabilities. It is constrained by its policies on foreign intervention, and the fact that it holds no foreign forces or military bases, while at the same time it remains wary about the China threat image that will undoubtedly grow in proportion to its increasing military capabilities and power-projection capabilities. On the other hand, China possesses considerable financial and economic capabilities that can be used to contribute to and influence global patterns and global governance, including its own international security influence.60 Thus, Professor David L. Shambaugh of George Washington University, an internationally-recognized authority on contemporary Chinese affairs, notes a paradox: “…for China to contribute more to international security cooperation it must enhance its capabilities; yet as China develops such capabilities it will generate concerns on its periphery and around the world.”61 Not only that, but if it increases its capabilities but shirks its responsibility to maintaining global security, the security dilemma is likely to emerge – and if it remains outside of alliances with the main status quo (namely NATO and those with close ties to the U.S.) it risks further alienation and projecting itself as a potentially dangerous power.62 Therefore, its foreign policy as a peacefully developing nation, and its continued adherence and participation in UN peacekeeping operations help in presenting itself as a responsible power whose growing military capabilities are strictly due to its own sovereign security and the improvement of UN capabilities.


China is already a regional great power and as it continues to expand economically, politically, and militarily, it must be careful to retain its image as a peaceful state concerned with international peace, security, and harmonious co-existence. Based upon this analysis, China has undergone a significant change since the 1970s and as it has opened its doors to the international community it has emerged as a rapidly developing power. Its relationship with peacekeeping has demonstrated that even its strict beliefs about sovereignty and non-intervention can be bent in some circumstances, as seen by its actions with respect to Iraq, Cambodia, Somalia, and Sudan. Peacekeeping has allowed China to project the image of an atypical and responsible power that is deeply concerned with the maintenance and protection of international peace and security. Chinese peacekeeping troops have “…built and repaired over 8,700 km of roads and 270 bridges, cleared over 8,900 mines and various explosive devices, transported over 600,000 tons of cargo across a total distance of 9.3 million km, and treated 79,000 patients.”63 This is a far cry from the days of refusing to vote on peacekeeping resolutions and the denial of financial and troop contributions.

As Chinese foreign policy has broadened, peacekeeping has reflected these changes. Its image as a responsible power and its increasing flexibility regarding the notions of sovereignty and non-intervention have been demonstrated in its increasing participation in peacekeeping operations. China’s approach to modern peacekeeping is consistent with that of a middle power in its policy development, which has been defined as professing a multilateral approach to building peace, a willingness to compromise, an understanding of middle-power limitations, and a tendency to take a targeted approach to international problems through a ‘helpful fixer’ role.64 Its focus upon peaceful development is supplemented by its PKO participation.

Finally, peacekeeping provides an opportunity to gain operational experience for the PLA, although it is certainly more limited than the experience that could be gained through armed conflict. Military-to-military dialogue and cooperation, the development of military capabilities, and military modernization have all improved due to participation in peacekeeping. China’s defence policy continues to reaffirm its commitment to sovereignty, non-intervention, and peaceful development – all of which is seen in its behaviour regarding PKOs. With little conventional experience in warfare, peacekeeping provides ‘boots on the ground’ knowledge and military power projection that does not exacerbate the China threat theory.

In summation, peacekeeping has provided a platform for China to expand its global presence in a relatively non-threatening manner, to build relationships with other nations, and to develop its military capabilities. China’s peacekeeping interests are not wholly altruistic however, and there is much to be gained from the peacekeeping foothold established in Africa, including the possibility of lucrative trade agreements with resource-rich nations. Nonetheless, China remains an actor that is motivated by careful consideration of the costs and benefits of its peacekeeping deployment, as evidenced by Darfur, and will likely continue to do so in order to maintain its international standing among global powers such as the U.S. and Russia. It will be interesting to track its continuing investment in PKOs in the coming years and whether or not China will consider providing support for ‘coalitions-of-the-willing’ as a means to increase its standing among the international community.

*About the author: Second Lieutenant Marissa Gibson is a reservist with the Princess of Wales’ Own Regiment in Kingston, Ontario. She has a Bachelor of Social Studies in Conflict Studies and Human Rights from the University of Ottawa, and a Master of Arts in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada.

Source: This article was published by the Canadian Military Journal, Volume 18, Number 1, Page 4.


  1. M. Taylor Fravel, “China’s Attitude toward U.N. Peacekeeping Operations since 1989,” in Asian Survey 36, No. 11 (November 1996), p. 1104.
  2. Chin-Hao Huang, “Principles and Praxis of China’s Peacekeeping,” in International Peacekeeping 18, No. 3 (June 2011), p. 258.
  3. Fravel, p. 1104.
  4. Ibid., p. 1105.
  5. Ibid., p. 1106.
  6. Yin He, China’s Changing Policy on UN Peacekeeping Operations, (Stockholm, Sweden: Institute for Security and Development Policy, 2007), p. 17.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid., p. 18.
  9. Ibid., pp. 18-19.
  10. Ibid., p. 20.
  11. Ibid., p. 21.
  12. Ibid., p. 26.
  13. Ibid., p. 41.
  14. Chen-pin Li, “Norm Entrepreneur or Interest Maximizer? China’s Participation in UN Peacekeeping Operations, 2001-2010,” in China: An International Journal 9, No. 2 (September 2011), p. 313.
  15. Philippe D. Rogers, “China and United Nations Peacekeeping Operations in Africa,” in Naval War College Review 60, No. 2 (Spring 2007), p. 76.
  16. Stefan Stähle, “China’s Shifting Attitude towards United Nations Peacekeeping Operations,” in The China Quarterly 195 (September 2008), p. 649.
  17. Courtney J. Fung, “What explains China’s deployment to UN peacekeeping operations?” in International Relations of the Asia-Pacific 16, No. 3 (November 2016), p. 415.
  18. Courtney J. Fung, “China’s Troop Contributions to UN Peacekeeping,” United States Institute for Peace, 26 July 2016, accessed 27 February 2017 at:
  19. Pang Zhongying, “China’s Changing Attitude to UN Peacekeeping,” in International Peacekeeping 12, No. 1 (Spring 2005), p. 88.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Prashnat Kumar Singh, “China’s ‘Military Diplomacy’: Investigating PLA’s Participation in UN Peacekeeping Operations,” in Strategic Analysis 35, No. 5 (September 2011), p. 797.
  22. Yeshi Choedon, “China’s Stand on UN Peacekeeping Operations: Changing Priorities of Foreign Policy,” in China Report 41, No. 1 (January 2005), p. 40.
  23. Emma V. Broomfield, “Perceptions of Danger: The China threat theory,” in Journal of Contemporary China 12, No. 35 (May 2003), p. 266.
  24. Ibid., p. 278.
  25. Singh, p. 797.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Jing Chen, “Explaining the Change in China’s Attitude toward UN Peacekeeping: a norm change perspective,” in Journal of Contemporary China 18, No. 58 (January 2009), p. 169.
  28. Courtney J. Richardson, “A Responsible Power? China and the UN Peacekeeping Regime,” in International Peacekeeping 18, No. 3 (June 2011), p. 288.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Ibid., p. 289.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Fung, p. 419.
  34. He, p. 49.
  35. Miwa Hirono, “China’s Charm Offensive and Peacekeeping: The Lessons of Cambodia – What Now for Sudan?” in International Peacekeeping 18, No. 3 (June 2011), p. 328.
  36. Huang, p. 263.
  37. Rogers, p. 74.
  38. Ibid., p. 88.
  39. Hirono, p. 337.
  40. United Nations, UNAMID Mandate, 11 March 2017, available at:
  41. Fung, p. 424.
  42. Ibid., p. 425.
  43. Ibid., p. 420.
  44. Ibid., p. 428.
  45. Fung, p. 429.
  46. He, p. 57.
  47. China, The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, China’s National Defence in 2010, (2011), accessed 18 January 2017, at:
  48. Richardson, p. 292.
  49. Rogers, p. 88.
  50. Ibid., p. 89.
  51. Ibid.
  52. China, The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, China’s Military Strategy, (2015), accessed 18 January 2017, at:
  53. Agreement (with exchange of notes) on Trade and Intercourse between Tibet Region of China and India, Beijing, 29 April 1954, United Nations Treaty Series vol. 299, No. 4307, available at:
  54. See Adekeye Adebajo’s “The Revolt Against the West: Intervention and Sovereignty,” Norrie MacQueen’s Humanitarian Intervention and the United Nations, and Florian P. Kühn and Mandy Turner’s The Politics of International Intervention: The Tyranny of Peace.
  55. He, pp. 42, 50, and 58.
  56. China’s National Defence in 2010.
  57. Ibid.
  58. David Shambaugh, China Goes Global: The Partial Power (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 269.
  59. Ibid., p. 270.
  60. Ibid., p. 272.
  61. Ibid.
  62. Ibid., p. 273.
  63. China’s National Defence in 2010.
  64. Miwa Hirono and Marc Lanteigne, “China and Peacekeeping,” in International Peacekeeping 18, No. 3 (June 2011), p. 249.

Click here to have Eurasia Review's newsletter delivered via RSS, as an email newsletter, via mobile or on your personal news page.

Canadian Military Journal

Canadian Military Journal is the official professional journal of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence. It is published quarterly under authority of the Minister of National Defence. Opinions expressed or implied in this publication are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Forces, Canadian Military Journal, or any agency of the Government of Canada. Crown copyright is retained.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *