CASS Scholar Li Dongyan on China’s Participation in UN Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding: Prospects and Ways Forward

Li Dongyan’s article is three years old but still useful to understand changing Chinese thinking on UN peacekeeping.

China’s Participation in UN Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding: Prospects and Ways Forward



Online: 2012-11-28 14:38:00   来源:《外交评论(外交学院学报)》(京)2012年03期

From the 3/2012 issue of Foreign Affairs Review published by the China Foreign Affairs University

Abstract:  Since the late 1980s, China has gradually expanded its participation in UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding.  With changes in UN peacekeeping, peacebuilding and actions as well as China’s changing international role, China faces new challenges and difficulties in this area.  China needs to improve and adjust its participation, its overall approach, and the mode of its participation in these activities.  With respect to the role and implementation of UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding, China still needs to maintain its traditional basic concepts on peacekeeping and effectively deploy its traditional strengths as well as to develop its cooperation with non-traditional actors.  China’s participation in these areas should be broader.  In particular, China should increase its role in policies and decision-making affecting peacekeeping, peacebuilding and political peacemaking.  In this way, “Western concepts” and “Chinese concepts” can re-inforce and complement one another in the implementation of peacekeeping and peacebuilding”.

Brief introduction of author:  Li Dongyan is a researcher in the World Economics and Politics Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding are two kinds of different yet closely connecting peace missions of the United Nations.  Peacekeeping and peacebuilding are organized differently within the United Nations.   Peacekeeping operations have been traditional activities of the UN ever since 1948.  Although the peacebuilding concept was proposed early on, it did not find a home in the organization until 2005 when the UN passed a resolution that established a new organization, the Peacebuilding Commission.  From a missions and authorities perspective, peacekeeping operation mission authorities include monitoring ceasefires, maintaining local peace and security; promoting peaceful resolution of disputes and dialogue among various nationalities; stop armed conflicts;  demobilization of combatants, and their repatriation and return to society; restoring organizational capacity to support rule of law and civil administration; organize and oversee elections; protect citizens;  protect human rights; and fighting violence and crime.  The principal task of peacebuilding is to support the peaceful post-conflict progress of a country.  This mission includes soliciting and coordinating resources, monitoring restoration and reconstruction work,  providing advice and information, developing an overall strategic policy that includes political, security, rule by law, human rights, humanitarian work, and social development.   The objective of peacebuilding is to prevent post conflict countries from once again falling back “by building sustainable peace”.  From a resources perspective, peacekeeping mission expenses are covered by the contributions of UN member countries.  The UN General Assembly makes a peacekeeping assessment on member countries for their share of peacekeeping costs.  This assessment takes into consideration the economic situation of each country and whether it is a permanent member of the Security Council.  The Peacebuilding Commission relies on contributions by member countries and other contributors to the Peacebuilding Fund to support countries on the peacebuilding agenda and other countries designated by the Secretary-General.

Although peacekeeping and peacebuilding are distinct organizationally, in their funding, and in their mission and authorities, the two types of missions are intimately connected in their shared focus on peace, security, politics, rule of law, and human rights.  Both are integral parts of multidimensional and comprehensive UN peacekeeping missions through which the UN seeks to stop conflicts and ensure that post conflict countries build a sustainable peace.  Thus far, the UN has already conducted peace operations in 66 countries around the world.  Fifteen of these missions are still underway.  As of November 30, 2011, the number of people participating in current missions had reached 98,548 peacekeepers and 17,771 civilian personnel.  As of February 2012, there were also 2,323 UN volunteers.  (Note 2)   As of March 2012, there were twenty-two countries are on the UN peacebuilding agenda.  These countries were chiefly in Africa, Asia and Latin America. (Note 3).

With the end of the Cold War, UN peacekeeping operations became more frequent as did academic work on peacekeeping. From the late 1980s into the 1990s, the number of articles in international journals on peacekeeping rose by 350%. (Note 4)   Influential journals such as “International Organizations” also started to increase their discussion of UN peacekeeping operations.   New journals such as “Global Governance” and “International Peacekeeping” also carried many articles on peacekeeping and peacebuilding. In both academic discussions and in the actual practice of the United Nations,  discussions gradually broadened from narrowly defined “traditional peacekeeping” concept to include peacemaking, peacebuilding, state building, and institution building towards the hybrid or mixed concept of “hybrid peacekeeping”.  (Note 5)   Ever since the late 1980s, as Chinese participation and role in UN peacekeeping operations broadened, attention to and discussion of China’s role in peacekeeping has increased both within China and abroad.  Li Beici, Shen Dawei and others have written articles about China’s participation in UN peacekeeping.  (Note 6)

The many issues closely related to China’s participation in UN peacekeeping missions have become the foci of many arguments and discussions.

  • Is the UN framework for peacekeeping and peacebuilding correct?
  • Is the idea that organizing elections should be “the first priority” correct?
  • Can the Western concepts of “nation building” and “institution building” be successfully transplanted in Africa through UN peacekeeping missions? (Note 7)
  • Can UN peacekeepers take on the important task of “resolving internal conflicts within states”? (Note 8)
  • Should China send combat troops to participate in UN peacekeeping missions?
  • Should China contribute more peacekeeping troops to UN missions?
  • How to reconcile the principle of non-interference with peacekeeping missions?
  • How to understand and put into practice the peacekeeping concepts of fairness and impartiality?

These issues need to be examined more deeply from both the perspective of developing and reforming UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding and from a Chinese foreign policy perspective.  Particularly as problems such as Libya and Syria arise, issues such as “the responsibility to protect interventions”, “election interventions” ,  national reconstruction and rebuilding of institutions have become important components of UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations. This has steadily lowered the threshold for UN intervention, made the political aspects of peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations more apparent.   For China, this has meant facing challenges and making needed adjustments as it reconciles its increased participation in UN peacekeeping with its non-interference principle.

China, as a permanent member of the Security Council, has a steadily growing influence in the world and is expected to play a larger role in world political and security affairs.  Participating in UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations is a responsibility that China cannot shirk.  As China develops and the nature of UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations change, China can no longer simply participate and simply increase the size of the peacekeeping forces it contributes to UN missions. China needs to move up from simple participation, to participating in the creation of UN mission ideas, tactics and strategies.  This will require adjustments and compromises.  Being all this in mind, this article will evaluate trends in UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding, China’s participation, and then present the author’s personal views on how China can further improve and expand its participation in UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding.

In April 2011, the author took part in a “China Scholars’ Study Trip on China Participation in UN Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding” organized by the East Asia Representative Office of the American Friends Service Committee and the Quaker United Nations Office.  The study group examined UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding programs in several countries including Burundi, Congo (Kinshasa).   The study group members had discussions with government officials, civic organizations, NGOs, local media, UN organizations, and UN peacekeepers including peacekeepers in Congo (Kinshasa).  This article is based on that study trip and discussions in the field on peacekeeping and peacebuilding in Africa.

  1. China Faces A Period of New Adjustments in its Participation in UN Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding

Ever since China began to participate in UN peacekeeping operations in the late 1980s, in both the changes in UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations, China has faced many new problems surrounding its participation in UN operations.  As China continues its participation, it will need to pass through a new period of adjustments.

  1. Basic Evaluation of China’s Participation in UN Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding

Chinese participation in UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding can be characterized overall as active support, careful decision-making and appropriate levels of participation.  Although China came relatively late to UN peace operations,  its contributions to funding peace operations, number of peacekeepers contributed to UN missions, and the scope of mission participation has been steadily increasing.  China contributes more peacekeeping personnel than any other permanent member of the UN Security Council. The Chinese government has been clear in its attitude about peace operations: “China firmly supports and actively participates in UN peace operations.” (Note 10) Most media and Chinese people also support UN peacekeeping. (Note 11)  Chinese policy and principles with regard of UN mission participation stress traditional peacekeeping.  China insists upon principles such as non-interference in the internal affairs of states that are found in the UN Charter, that UN missions be authorized by the Security Council, that the host country must consent to the presence of the UN mission,  caution in the use of force, impartiality etc. (Note 12)

China sends peacekeepers, engineering troops, medical personnel, and logistical support personnel as well as other peacekeepers such as observers and civil police.  Although the UN has asked China to contribute a formed combat unit, China has not, except for formed police units, and has not, thus far, sent combat units on UN missions.  China has participated very little in political, rule of law, institutional rebuilding issues related to peacekeeping and peacebuilding. China is regard as willing to do “hard” matters but not in “soft” matters.  Chinese non-governmental organization are also not involved. China lacks ties to  NGOs in UN mission host countries and to other international NGO actors.  This issue has often been pointed out in research on Chinese peacekeeping. (Note 13)  Moreover, China participates more in peacekeeping missions than it does in peacebuilding projects.

According to end 2011 UN statistics, China paid 3.189% of the total assessments paid by UN member countries, ranking eighth.  China paid 3.93% of the peacekeeping assessment, ranking seventh.  According to December 31, 2011 statistics, China had 1924 peacekeepers deployed on UN missions, ranking sixteenth.  China contributes more peacekeepers than any of the developed countries and more than any other permanent member of the UN Security Council.  Among the newly developing countries,  China contributes far fewer peacekeepers than does India but comes in only just behind Brazil and South Africa. (Note 14)   In peacebuilding, most of the funds come from Europe and countries such as Canada and Japan.  The top contributors to peacebuilding are in order Sweden, the UK,  The Netherlands, Norway, Japan,  Canada, Germany,  Ireland,  Finland, and Denmark.  Based on 2006 – 2011 statistics, Sweden was in first place with contributions totaling 84.44 million dollars,  followed by the UK 61.93 million dollars, and The Netherlands 46.46 million dollars.  China contributed 4 million dollars to peacebuilding projects, about the same as India and South Korea.  (Note 15)

Overall, China is an active and cautious participator and contributor to UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations.  China’s participation does not lag behind other countries, but the Chinese model for participation in UN operations and the route China takes to participate in UN missions is relatively simple.  China participates in a narrow range of missions which could be expanded.  China urgently needs to make adjustments and improvements in its engagement in UN missions.

  1. New Challenges China Faces in Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding

With the growth of China’s overall national strength and with the changes in the nature and content of UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding, Chinese in its participation in UN missions faces many new problems and challenges. China is often confronted with difficult choices such as between participation and not participation; between limited participation and large-scale participation; between a forced intervention and a non-coercive intervention; between an armed intervention and an unarmed intervention.

First of all, China confronts a contradiction between the role that it is expected to play in the international community and its own difficult circumstance of being constrained, doubted, and pressured.  On one hand, China faces the expectation that it will take up a larger share of international duties and responsibilities.  The UN and the member countries expect that China will make greater contributions and provide more Chinese personnel and Chinese financial support.  On the other hand, some members of the UN are worried about the rise of China.  They disagree with the Chinese model of development.  Some go so far as to see China as a potential threat and are always on the alert for the expansion of Chinese influence.  This kind of international environment is not encouraging for increased Chinese participation in international multilateral military and security cooperation.  This makes China especially cautious as it makes choices about expanding its participation in UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding activities so it keeps a low profile.  Therefore, increased Chinese participation will need to go through a “break-in” period in which China and other UN member countries, and particularly with the great powers, increase their mutual trust.

Challenges also arise from changes in the nature and content of UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding.   These changes have put under pressure the basic principles of the UN Charter and the basic principles of traditional peacekeeping.  These changes also go outside the scope of the issues and areas that China understands related to peacekeeping – those of peace and development.  This will require China in its implementation of peacekeeping to make further adjustments and changes as it seeks new ways and means for participating in peacekeeping.

Issues surrounding interventions related to “the responsibility to protect”, “state building”, “institution building” and “good governance” are problematic for China.  The issue of humanitarian intervention has always been a difficult one for UN peacekeeping. Since “the responsibility to protect” was first proposed, it has already been partially implemented in Ivory Coast, Haiti, and Guinea-Bissau. The “Libya-type intervention” was a classic case of a “responsibility to protect intervention”.  This precedent means that “responsibility to protect” interventions may become increasingly frequent including authorizations for “the responsibility to protect” in traditional peacekeeping missions. What begins as a Libya-type “responsibility to protect” intervention could later become authorized as a peacekeeping and peacebuilding mission.  Peacekeeping and peacebuilding, one of the UN’s means of intervention, thus becomes more deeply and widely enmeshed in the internal affairs of a country.  In many cases, the nature of the political intervention already exceeds the scope of a humanitarian intervention.  Owing to these trends, China must confront an increasing tension between peacekeeping interventions and non-intervention in the internal affairs of states.   Chinese participation in these operations is becoming increasingly complicated.  Chen Jian, chair of the China United Nations Association, described the challenges this way:  Formerly, disorder, civil war, coups etc. far away from China on the other side of the world had no effect on us.  China’s will no longer be able to stand apart from far away conflicts. (Note 16).

Although there continues considerable debate on the theory and practice of nation-building, institution building and good governance,  nation building and good governance have become fashionable terms of discourse to use in discussing peacekeeping and peacebuilding and in setting priorities.  These terms have been imposed on the United Nations from the top on down.  For example, for the “Special Mission to United Nations to the Republic of the South Sudan”  begun on July 9, 2011,  the authorizing language includes phrases such as “on the issues of political transition, governance and nation building”, “promote the participation of the people in the political process, including starting up various constitution-building processes, holding elections according to the constitution, promote the establishment of an independent media, and ensure the participation of women in decision-making and policymaking etc.”,  “support the formulation of thorough reforms in the security sector”, and “support the government of the Republic of the South Sudan a military justice system that supports the civil justice system”. (Note 17).   Apart from peace and security, UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions are also charged, in their mission authorizations,  with issues such as initiating, organizing and supervising elections, building the rule of law, reform the public security and police systems, protecting civilians, human rights, freedom of speech, media freedom, and fighting corruption.  Much of this goes beyond what China understands as the scope of multilateral international cooperation on peace and development. Therefore, China needs to make further adjustments in its approach to the steadily increasing demands for ever more complicated peacekeeping and peacebuilding duties to include reforms in the selection and training of peacekeeping personnel.

One more points is that with the increase in the number of organizations involved in peacekeeping and peacebuilding,  we see involved in UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding various kind of organizations such as regional organizations, NGOs, and charitable organizations. These organizations have become global partners with the UN in peacekeeping and peacebuilding.  For example, NATO, the EU, the African Union, the Arab League, the East African Community, the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) have all actively participated in UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding actions.  The UN has been paying increasing attention to mobilizing and organizing local social organizations and NGOs, especially in peacebuilding. For example, UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding in African countries includes helping to establish and providing expert training to youth organizations, women’s organizations, organizations opposed to violence as well as news organizations and media.   The United Nations Peacebuilding Commission “recognizes the important contribution of civil society, including non-governmental organizations and the private sector, to all stages of peacebuilding efforts” in each stage of peacebuilding and encourages the civil organizations of countries in which peacebuilding projects are underway to participate in peacebuilding and peace consultations.   [Note 18]

  1. The Need to Work Through the Process of Breaking Down Friction Points Between “Western Thinking” and “Chinese Thinking”

Differences between Chinese thinking and Western thinking about peacekeeping and peacebuilding.

First of all, western countries, and the international organizations and NGOs that they lead,  emphasize humanitarian intervention and interventions to build a state polity.  They make priorities of issues such as the rebuilding of state institutions, elections and good governance. These include funding and building legislative and legal advice centers, courts, police schools, and “good governance” offices.   China, on the other hand, stresses the right of the country involved to makes its own decisions and to speak for itself, stresses the importance of building state capacity and of economic and social development for promoting peace and security.  Most Chinese participation involves building roads and sites, sending medical units and providing other kinds of logistical support.

Secondly, as noted earlier, the NGOs of the western developed countries actively participate in UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding actions and stress mobilizing host country people from the grassroots on up so that local civic organizations and NGOs can participate in state reconstruction and institutional reconstruction.  These activities include funding and training civic society and NGOs and supporting independent media.  China lacks ties with national civic organizations and international NGOs.  When we carried out our survey in Africa, we noticed how people from western NGOs and charitable organization as well as religious people participated in UN peacekeeping and related activities, built ties to host country civil society, and provided policy suggestions to the UN on peacekeeping and peacebuilding.  Among the suggestions put forth for UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding, the kind of suggestion put forth most often is to pay closer attention to the local level – to “resolution of local conflicts”, to listen to “the voices of civil society” and to stress “local institutions” and the role of the local people in the process of national reconstruction. (Note 19)

Thirdly, on the question of conflict resolution, China’s traditional way of thinking and values call for protecting national unity and territorial integrity and maintaining ethnic unity.   Western ways of thinking tend to see separation and partition as ways to “prevent and reduce the level of violence” and as a “means of restoring peace”.  (Note 21)  In recent years, the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund’s major orientation has been towards the implementation of peace agreements, including institution building in the security, justice and administrative sectors as well as disarmament, demobilization and the social re-integration of former combatants, good governance, etc.   Only a small part has been used on social and economic development.  For example, in Burundi, the United Nations helped organize elections, support the building of administrative management institutions, including good governance offices. Issues of development and employment were a low priority.  Financial support of project by developed countries also reflected this “western way of thinking”.  For example, Germany provided funds to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and to the United Nations Mission to the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) so that they can provide assistance on the legislative process.  The Netherlands and U.S. governments supported the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL)  set up a commission to fight transnational crime.  Japan, the UK, and other countries are supported the UN projects such as building a police training school in Congo (Kinshasa).

During our African study trip, our group had a discussion with the Chinese Embassy in Burundi.  The Chinese Ambassador stressed that while good governance is indeed important, economic and social development and other issues such as employment are just as important and deserve attention.  The Chinese representative, at meetings at which the UN Peacekeeping and Peacekeeping Evaluation Committee makes its reports, often stresses that peacebuilding needs to put the country first by respecting its autonomy and independence.  The UN should give top priority to making breakthroughs in deep seated issues including problems of social and economic development. (Note 22)  These views express the Chinese way of thinking on peacekeeping and peacebuilding and the different Chinese understanding on the roots of conflict and way to resolve conflicts.  Those who advocate the “politics first” approach to peacekeeping and peacebuilding believe that the resolution of political problems is the foundation of peacekeeping.   However, in resolving conflicts which arise because of problems such as land, resources, minerals, and elections is the key factor in peacebuilding and “development itself will worsen these conflicts”. (Note 23)

Peacekeeping and peacebuilding today are based on Western values and there exists a fairly completely way of thinking of designing missions and mission concepts. A system built along those lines including a system of reports, inspections and evaluations.  However, based on Chinese ways of thinking and Chinese experience, peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions have a high starting point and high standards but show few results, are excessively Western in orientation, are divorced from conditions on the ground.  They stress ideals but neglect results, stress form but neglect substance, stress freedom but neglect stability, stress elections but neglect security and development.

Differences in the debates on the philosophy and methods of peacekeeping and peacebuilding are not limited to disagreements between China and the western countries.  Some research on the “freedom-oriented”  “nation building” model has been critical, arguing that these efforts at “freedom-oriented” peacebuilding have not eliminated the roots of conflict.   This approach not only does not create a free and democratic country, it actually makes a relapse into continued conflict more likely.   Experts who have a “security first” perspective believe that competition should not be encouraged if security conditions along with trustworthy and stable institutions are not yet sufficiently mature. (Note 24)   Debates about UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding highlight the fact that in areas where there is a high potential for development, every kind of way of thinking and method needs to be tested by actual practice.

China needs to make larger adjustments in its policies and strategies on participation in UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding owing to trends in UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding and the challenges that China itself faces.  China should not keep to the same positions it has held in the past.  China should encourage the consideration of diverse ideas on peacekeeping and peacebuilding so that they can be improved and complement one another.  China should actively participate from the outset in the creation of peacekeeping and peacebuilding activities so as to promote the developing of thinking on UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding.

  1. Factors China Should Consider in Expanding Participation in Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding

Expanded Chinese participation in peacekeeping and peacebuilding is not simply a matter of scaling up its current participation and making more financial contributions.  This is not a matter than China alone can decide.  China’s participation, the scale of its participation and the way it participates are constrained by various factors.  China’s participation and strategic adjustment should be based on consideration of a number of factors including:  the role and effectiveness of UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding, whether the UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding activity are in accord with China’s own fundamental interests, and whether the host country and most of the UN member states support it.

  1. Is a UN peacekeeping or peacebuilding mission necessary?

China’s decision to participate should consider the effectiveness and outlook for UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding.  That is, to what extent can the peacekeeping or peacebuilding mission be successful, is necessary and is worthy of China’s support.  During our field survey, we listened to local government officials and NGOs give their evaluations of the role of UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding.  Two views came through loud and clear: one the one hand, be it in Burundi or in Congo Kinshasa, people affirmed the necessity of UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding.  One the other hand, people also had criticisms for and expressed anger at the United Nations.  The people we interviewed said that if it weren’t for the United Nations, public order would be even less stable and that more people would have been killed.  UN organizations also supported some assistance projects to promote development and had improved the lives of local people.  With the help of the UN, Burundi was able to hold several elections during which there were no major outbreaks of violence. The UN considers this a model of success.  In the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we also saw local government office buildings, courts, police stations, jails etc.  which had been built with the help of the United Nations.  These facilities supplied part of the material basis for establishing democracy and the rule of law.

The shortcomings and flaws of the United Nations are evident as well. It is relatively easy for the UN to succeed in a small country like Burundi.  In a large country like Congo (Kinshasa) the role of the UN is much more limited and its accomplishments are harder to see.  Although the UN did help Congo (Kinshasa) establish local courts, police stations and prisons, these facilities haven’t played their proper role and remain just buildings.  In Congo (Kinshasa) the lack of penalties for crimes remains very serious.  Rapes on a large scale still regularly occur.  There are regular demands for the UN to withdraw and attacks on UN personnel.  UN support in the areas of social and economic development is just a drop in the bucket.  Local governments and civil society complain that they haven’t heard to UN assistance projects.  Overall, local people have a mixed albeit positive evaluation of the work of the UN.  In some cases, host country people have a certain amount of sentiment against the UN and so are just barely accepting of the presence of the UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding mission. Given this popular feeling, it is difficult for UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding to achieve an ideal result.

As an external intervening force, the strategy and plans developed by the United Nations are often not suited to the local situation, has only very limited effectiveness, and faces many problems. Those who support UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding admit that the state re-building and institution re-building carried out by the United Nations in African “failed states”  has many shortcomings.  For example the elections promoted as part of the UN peacebuilding strategy cannot fundamentally resolve local conflicts.  Western state institutions cannot be successfully transplanted to the African continent.  The conceptions of the foreign states providing assistance and the African “failed states” and “post-conflict states” are inevitably different.  International actors are unable to reconstruct African states. (Note 25)   The priority projects in the UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding agenda conflicts to a certain extent with those of the host countries.  The UN on the one hand stresses that it is essential that “host countries continue to consent to and effectively co-operate” with peacekeeping and peacebuilding” but on the other hand stresses that “allow the erosion of UN principles” for the sake of getting the consent of the host country.  (Note 26)  The contradictions pointed out earlier are also part of the problem – whether to focus on the government or on the people, whether to stress elections or security, stress separation or unity.  These contradictions often mean that in practice UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding is often fluctuating between these alternative conceptions and so progress is difficult.

Although there is indeed great support and a will to promote UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding and increased demand for UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding, there are also very mixed evaluations of disagreements about the role and effectiveness of UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding.  Therefore, China clearly must continue to be cautious and be selective in its willingness to participate in UN peacekeeping missions.  Both the United Nations and China should work hard to improve peacekeeping and peacebuilding and not simply keep investing more money in programs that have not been effective.

  1. Is Increased Participation in China’s Interests  and Under What Conditions

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has a responsibility to participate in and support UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding.  From the perspectives of capacity, finances and manpower, China is certainly capable of doing more.  Additional considerations are that both the Chinese government and people support peacekeeping and the good reputation that Chinese peacekeepers and police have already earned on UN missions. During our survey trip in Africa, we heard praise for Chinese peacekeepers from both the UN and local people.  We need to consider the question whether increased Chinese participation in UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding is in accord with China’s own interests and basic principles.

Research in both China and abroad has examined how participation in peacekeeping and peacebuilding activities meets China’s interests and needs.

These include (Note 27):

  • Fulfilling international duties and responsibilities;
  • Raise China’s reputation and image on the international scene;
  • Develop a cadre of Chinese who familiar with international work who are comfortable working openly with foreign partners;
  • Expand international cooperation and exchanges and
  • Protect Chinese interests overseas.

No doubt, expanded and improved Chinese participation would provide an opportunity to train peacekeepers, police, and other participating personnel on the international stage.  This would also give China an opportunity to strengthen its relationships with the United Nations, regional organizations, the governments and peoples of the countries in which Chinese peacekeeping forces operate.  Moreover, Chinese participation will also enable China to better protect regional and global security environments which are intimately connected to China’s own interests.  These include providing assistance to navigation in international waters, promoting anti-terrorism, anti-piracy, and other types of international cooperation against cross-border crime.  Overall, China not only has capability and financial resources for expanded participation in peacekeeping and peacebuilding, its own interests also drive its participation.

  1. To What Extent do the UN and Member-States Encourage Chinese Participation

Support and expectations for greater Chinese participation in UN peacekeeping operations comes from many quarters – from scholarly articles to the UN to other UN member-states. The UN has found from long experience that “No matter from political, military, or a financial perspective, the contribution of big countries to peacekeeping is          absolutely essential.”  (Note 28)  The United Nations encourages building up global partnerships for peacekeeping and peacebuilding and hopes that big, rising and developing countries like China and India will increase their support, and believes that increased Chinese participation will be very important for the United Nations. The UN is confident that China can use its position as a permanent member of the Security Council, and make good use of its growing economic and military power and China’s influence on developing countries to help eliminate the disagreement between the North and the South on peacekeeping issues, and contribute to an “inclusive global peacekeeping alliance.”  (Note 29)   In 2009, the UN Deputy Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Affairs Guehenno said that he hoped that China would send troops to take part in UN peacekeeping operations including providing air transport, and aviation technical support, saying “I would be happy to see the Chinese People’s Liberation Army provide this kind of support to UN peacekeeping operations.” (Note 30)

Bates Gill, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in a report on China and peacekeeping wrote that China should be encouraged to participate in multilateral security cooperation and that western countries should increase their engagement with China peacekeeping related discussions, training and other forms of capacity building.  Gill believes that China’s increased participation in peacekeeping will strengthen China’s engagement with other countries on global and regional security issues. This will be helpful in promoting a greater contribution and support from China for regional stability and effective international peacekeeping operations. (31)   During our African study trip, we heard that view from the United  Nations, from the countries in which peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions were underway, from international NGOs,  and from academic institutions.  They all hope that China will increase its cooperation and exchanges and hope that China will make a greater contribution to UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding projects.

However, as discussed above, some UN member countries have conflicted feelings about China increasing its international influence.  In these countries, some want to see encourage greater Chinese international participation while others want to limit it.  The 2009  US Department of Defense report on Chinese military power that China’s capabilities to participate in faraway peacekeeping and humanitarian missions are also capabilities that “could allow China to project power to ensure access to resources or enforce claims to disputed territories.” (Note 32)   Differences between “Chinese thinking” and “Western thinking” and the effect of the “China threat theory” have made China less interested in increasing its participation and why China chose to consider cautiously the question of whether to participate.   China clearly cannot make a unilateral decision to expand its participation.  Moreover, China is being forced to accept a peacekeeping and peacebuilding model that it does not support and does not understand well.  The extent of China’s participation will depend upon the degree of cooperation China has with UN institutions, the countries in which peacekeeping operations take place and other member states.

  • Ways and Means to Increased Chinese Participation

For China, improving and expanding participation is not simply a matter of scale or the amount of a contribution, participating in new areas or widening the scope of participation or creating a new model of participation.  More important is to improve the quality of Chinese participation and its effectiveness. In that sense, there are many areas in which China can improve and expand its participation.

1 — Interventions that are legal, just and necessary under the UN Charter and basic peacekeeping principles

China’s participation in peacekeeping and peacebuilding needs to be based on an evaluation that the mission is legal, just, necessary, possible, and appropriate.  The purposes and basic principles of the UN Charter and other related basic peacekeeping principles are the guiding principles for a Chinese decision to participate in peacekeeping and peacebuilding.  China still insists on UN authorization, the agreement of the host country in which the operation will take place, and opposes excessive intervention, armed intervention are absolutely necessary.  Both in theory and in practice, China opposes the excessive expansion of UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding.  All countries oppose this both as a matter of policy as well as in practice.

China has already been increasing its participation in peacekeeping and peacebuilding interventions under the United Nations framework.  Looking at it in terms of China’s stress on the United Nations, there are three bases for Chinese participation in peacekeeping and peacebuilding:

  1. The principles of the UN Charter referred to earlier as well as traditional peacekeeping principles
  2. Relevant precepts of international law, decisions of the UN Security Council, and the commonly accepted values and principles of  UN member states including international humanitarian law, and principles such as the protection of civilians, peaceful resolution of conflicts, and tolerance.
  3. Principles supported by China such as “peaceful co-existence”, “peaceful development”, and “harmonious society”.

China on these bases participates in peacekeeping and peacebuilding.  China participates in legal and necessary international interventions in order to carry out its joint responsibility as a UN member state.  Therefore the question of whether this “violates” the non-intervention policy does not arise.  There are no grounds for standing on the principles of the UN Charter as a justification for refusing to move forward on peacekeeping and peacebuilding issues.

  1. Using China’s Traditional Strengths to Open Up New Areas for Participation

Traditional areas for Chinese participation are engineering troops, medical teams, and logistical support.  These traditional Chinese strengths have won widespread trust and should be built upon even further.  However some areas which are not traditional areas for Chinese participation China also has both the capacity and the capability to expand its participation.

In the political and security areas such as administrative organizations, rule of law organizations, and projects such as demobilization and refugee re-settlement China can also increase its cooperation with the UN.  China could provide relevant training support including infrastructure, equipment, technology, personnel, and financial support.  China could also cooperate with the UN in supporting projects such as “administrative personnel training centers” , “policing capacity training classes”, and “demobilization and re-integration training centers”, “women and children protection centers” and “civil dispute resolution offices”.

Economic and social development are not priorities for in peacekeeping and peacebuilding.  However, youth employment, gender equality, and protection of children fall within the scope of peacekeeping and peacebuilding.  China has both the capacity and the opportunity to participate more and to contribute more resources in those areas.  China would be able to increase its support for youth employment and youth training projects including support for cultural and recreation centers and sports centers.  Getting youth involved in work and cultural activities helps get young people away from violence, increases their group solidarity and broadens their social contacts.  During our trip to Africa, we saw how local people appreciated the schools, hospitals and roads that China had built.  China should participate more in these “small projects that can make a big difference”.   These projects have relatively small technical and financial requirements.  One or two small brick or wooden buildings with some simple improvements are all that is needed, are easy to build and maintain, and meet the goals and purposes of UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions.

  1. Expand Participation of Non Traditional Actors, Strengthen Co-operation with Local Civil Society and International NGOs

Traditional peacekeeping actors are in general part of “high-level politics” and are a guided by government departments.  However, as the authorized domains of peacekeeping and peacebuilding have increased and partnerships have expanded, many non-state actors are also participating.

China can put more stress on participation by non-state actors.  First, by promoting cooperation between local civil society and international non-state actors. Second is by diversifying the Chinese personnel who participate, including their participation in NGOs.   Local civil society, religious groups, NGOs etc. are grassroots forces for promoting peace and development.  International NGOs as they help the UN complete peacekeeping and peacebuilding tasks also seek to be effective. Most of the work of international NGOs is at the local “micro” level such as clinics, assistance centers for women and girls, AIDS testing center,  peace education training, and technical training. The local counterparts to international NGOs are local civic organizations, NGOs, media, and religious people.  Some international NGOs have a long history and have been have been participating in international peace operation from the beginning and have an established relationship with the UN.  The US Public Service Commission that organized and sponsored our survey trip to Africa was one of these.  The Commission, which has “general consultative status” at the UN Economic and Social Council, actively supports UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding work and maintains close contact with the UN and provides the UN with relevant advice and policy suggestions.

China has comparatively few personnel in organizations involved in peacekeeping and peacebuilding and lacks interactions with in-country local civic organizations and with international NGOs.  China should continually look for ways to participate in varies kinds of actors so that Chinese civic organizations, charitable organizations, volunteers and enterprises can participate in projects connected to UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding.

China could appropriately increase the participation of Chinese police.  Statistics from January 2005 to January 2011 show that the UN demand for police has been steadily increasing. The number of police in peacekeeping more than doubled from 6,765 to 14,377.  Over the same period, the number of military peacekeeping personnel increased by 46% from 56,197 to 82,196.   Although the UN has urgently requested that China send combat troops,  China’s conditions for sending combat troops are very strict, and can only be sent according to the seriousness of the situation.  Moreover, Chinese legal personnel, administrative personnel, and technical training personnel can also participate in peacekeeping forces.  This would diversify China’s participation.

  1.  Expand China’s Participation from the Traditional Model to More Diverse Participation

China could choose according to circumstances from among several models for participation. For example, China could choose the simple enhancement model by which it would take an existing program and simply increase the number of personnel and funds it contributes.  It could also choose the proactive engagement model, in which China would actively propose, plan and open a UN peacekeeping or peacebuilding program. New models and new areas, from taking the lead in planning of operations to funding support, this would mean promoting the development of UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding according to Chinese thinking, Chinese experience and Chinese resources.  This would include a new synthesis of “Chinese thinking”, “UN thinking” and “Western thinking”.  This is because China guided programs within the UN framework will need to win the support of other UN members including the support of countries in which the UN mission operates.

An entry point for building peace is the combination of “sustainable peace” and “sustainable development”.   The UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding thinking is about moving from sustainable peace to sustainable development. Considering that currently most of the funds for peacebuilding come from the developed countries, the major focus of the funding is the reconstruction of the political and legal systems of post-conflict countries.  In addition to increasing its support of “state capacity building”, China could, as a supplement to UN “good governance and peace” programs, promote the “development and peace” portion of peacebuilding. China could link sustainable development to aspects of peacebuilding such as repatriation and resettlement, social re-integration, stability and security, youth employment, gender equality, and the elimination of poverty.

China’s participation should go beyond the “road repair, bridge-building, build hospitals” model and experiment with new ways of thinking and new models.  In particular, when participating in non-traditional areas, including areas in which there are innovations in peacekeeping and peacebuilding, China should look for areas in which Chinese ways of thinking and Western ways of thinking will complement one another.

Conclusion:  China’s Future Role in UN Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding

The way that China will participate in peacekeeping and peacebuilding is a topic much discussed both in China and abroad.  There are many different views within China as to whether China should send combat troops to participate in peacekeeping. Foreign scholars are also studying how China might participate in future peacekeeping missions in forms such as whether China will like, some developing countries, be a “troop contributing country” or, like some developed countries, “financial support contributing country” or a “policy-setting country that give background support to negotiations”.  Some studies suggest that if China abandons its traditional participation model it might lose its traditional strengths on “hardware” issues and fall into a competition with the developed countries on “soft” issues. If China persists in insisting on its traditional approach, then then the developed countries will use “soft” principles to criticize and constrain China and force China to give in. (Note 36)

The suppositions and analyses made in many quarters reflect the great attention that it being paid to China’s future participation and role.  Based on the analysis above, the authors basic judgements about Chinese participation in peacekeeping and peacebuilding are:

China will continue to actively support UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding and seek to improve and broaden that participation.  China’s participation is its contribution to UN protection of regional and global security. This is carrying out the joint responsibility of member-states of the UN and also is in line with China’s own interests and needs.  However, China will make decisions about participating in UN missions very carefully.

In multilateral peacekeeping cooperation, China needs to make decisions on adjustments to its participation and contributions.  China will work closely with various parts of the UN and with other countries involved to increase exchanges, increase mutual trust and cooperation.

China is not going down the road of a “big troop contributing country” and, for now, is cannot play the role of a “policy-setting country that give background support to negotiations”.  However, in both those areas, China has the potential to make greater contributions.  In addition to maintaining China’s traditional strengths in peacekeeping, China’s participation should participate more broadly and gradually diversify the different kinds of Chinese personnel participating in UN peacekeeping..

Endnotes (original text)



③见“联合国建设和平基金”,联合国网站,http://www. unpbf. org/countries/。

④Oldrich Bures,“Wanted: A Mid-Range Theory of International Peacekeeping”, International Studies Review, Vol.9, No.3, Fall 2007, p.407.

⑤Chetan Kumar and Jos De la Haye,“Hybrid Peacemaking: Building National‘Infrastructures for Peace’”, Global Governance, Vol.18, No.1, January-March 2012,pp.13-20.

⑥见Bates Gill and Chin-hao Huang,“China’s Expanding Peacekeeping Role: Prospects and Policy Implications”, SIPRI, Policy Paper 25, November 2009, http://books. pdf;沈大伟:《中国在全球治理方面大有可为》,“第四届世界中国学论坛”,http://unpanl. un. org/intradoc/groups/public/。

⑦相关研究可见Séverine Autesserre,“Hobbes and the Congo: Frames, Local Violence, and International Intervention”, International Organization, Vol.63, No.2, Spring 2009, pp.249-280; Pierre Englebert and Denis M. Tull, “Post-Conflict Reconstruction in Africa: Flawed Ideas about Failed States”, International Security, Vol.32, No.4, Spring 2008, pp.106-139。


⑨李康云(Courtney J. Richardson):《对中国作为兵力派遣国的对比研究》,载赵磊、高心满等:《中国参与联合国维持和平行动的前沿问题》,北京:时事出版社,2011年,第467—487页;广野美和(Miwa Hirono):《在当地民众中建立信任——维和中的公正性原则》,载赵磊、高心满等:《中国参与联合国维持和平行动的前沿问题》,第488—512页。

⑩见《第65届联合国大会中国立场文件》,人民网,http://world. people. com. cn/,2010年9月13日。

(11)2004年“零点指标数据网”(www. Horizonkey. com)发布的一项最新民意调查结果显示,七成中国人支持政府参与国际维和行动,表示反对的约占一成。其中25.3%表示非常赞成中国更积极地参与维和行动,45.4%表示比较赞同中国更积极参与,11.1%表示比较反对更积极参与,2.5%的人表示非常反对。该机构2010年公布的另一项调查结果显示,47.8%的受访者认为中国应该扩大对国际维和行动的投入,46.6%的受访者认为中国应该维持参与现状,主张减少投入的占4.3%。见马丽:《七成居民赞成中国更积极参与维和行动》,零点研究集团,www. Horizonkey. com;中国发展研究基金会委托零点研究咨询集团为“中国发展高层论坛2010”所做的《中国公众和在华外国人士眼中的中国国家地位观调查》,http://www. horizonkey. com/tongqi. pdf。



(14)数据来源:“2012年会员国应缴纳的会费”,联合国网, shtml;“维持和平的经费筹措”,联合国网,http://www. shtml;“Ranking of Military and Police Contributions to UN Operation”,2011-12-31,联合国网,www.。

(15)数据来源:“联合国建设和平基金”,联合国网,http://www. unpbf. org/donors/contributions/。




(19)Séverine Autesserre,“Hobbes and the Congo: Frames, Local Violence, and International Intervention”, pp.249—280.




(23)Chetan Kumar and Jos De la Haye,“Hybrid Peacemaking: Building National‘Infrastructures for Peace’”, p.14.

(24)相关争论见:Jens Meierhenrich,“Forming States after Failure”, in Robert Rotberg, ed., When States Fail: Causes and Consequences, Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press,2003, pp.155—156; Michael Barnett, Hunjoon Kim, Madalene O’Donnell, and Laura Sitea,“Peacebuilding: What Is in a Name?” Global Governance, Vol.13, No.1, January-March 2007, p.51。

(25)Pierre Englebert and Denis M. Tull,“Post-Conflict Reconstruction in Africa: Flawed Ideas about Failed States”.



(28)Fred Tanner,“Addressing the Perils of Peace Operations: Toward a Global Peacekeeping System”, Global Governance,Vol.16, No.2, April-June 2010, p.213.

(29)Ibid., pp.213—214.


(31)Bates Gill and Chin-hao Huang,“China’s Expanding Peacekeeping Role: Prospects and Policy Implications”.

(32)“Annual Report to Congress: Military Power of the People’s Republic of China,2009”,


(34)Monthly Summary of Contributions(Police, UN Military Experts on Mission and Troops), As of 31 December2011, http://www. un. org/en/peacekeeping/resources/statistics/.



About 高大伟 David Cowhig

Now retired, translated Liao Yiwu's 2019 "Bullets and Opium", and studying some things. Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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