Don't Be Afraid Of the China Who is Sending Its Armies Across the World

The current discourse regarding Chinese foreign policy tends to focus overwhelmingly on its economic aspects. While some U.S. citizens and politicians consider China's economic rise a threat, certain diplomatic actions, such as China's increasing involvement in UN peacekeeping missions should be well received in Washington, could pacify these American apprehensions if employed by China consistently.

As China gains power and prestige in the global political economy, it is tasked with assuring the world — and specifically the U.S. — of its intent and goodwill at becoming a responsible power. To this end, China must integrate into the international community and make active contributions to international peace and security, such as by becoming involved in UN peacekeeping missions.

Recent trends in Chinese foreign policy that involve peacekeeping missions have been doing just this. Today, China has the largest number of troops active in peacekeeping missions from among the permanent 5 (P5) members of the United Nations Security Council, even more than the U.S. As of December 2010, the People's Liberation Army has 1,955 officers and men serving in nine UN mission areas. China’s recent peacekeeping mission in Mali received great acclaim from UN officials. Not only was the mission able to successfully contribute to ensuring peaceful elections, but it also highlighted a different nature of the Chinese peacekeeping mission. Whereas early missions had involved only logistical and medical personnel, in Mali, China dispatched actual security forces to help maintain the peace. As Chen Jian, the head of the UN Association of China, told the Financial Times at the beginning of the mission, “This is a major breakthrough in our participation in peacekeeping.”

Yet, China faces numerous obstacles that hinder its greater involvement in peacekeeping missions. Whereas the traditional procedure for the deployment of a peacekeeping force solely involves force to be used only in self-defense and with the permission of the host country, China has insisted on the acquiescence of regional organizations. It has also demurred when regional elements and countries have been overtly hostile to foreign intervention, even when such intervention entails peacekeeping missions. In addition, contrasting philosophies among the Ministries of Chinese Foreign Affairs and National Defense have led to roadblocks in pursuing efforts that improve China’s image worldwide. Whereas the MFA seems to acknowledge and work within a limited framework towards this end, the MND does not seem too concerned about China’s world image.

Continuously the realists within the U.S. consider China’s rise a threat to international security and peace. China, on the other hand, has always insisted on a peaceful rise that it aims to achieve with economic diplomacy and engagement. Events such as China’s continuous veto on the United Nations Security Council's sanction of Syria have done little to improve its world image and its ties with the U.S. It is crucial that China continues to actively partake in peacekeeping missions. Such a policy can only supplement China’s own claims of a peaceful rise and at some level contribute to reducing U.S. apprehensions about its aspirations.