By Cheng Cheng Source: Global Times Published: 2016-10-23
Recently, a Washington-based NGO released a report criticizing the reaction of Chinese troop to the turmoil of South Sudan in July 2016. The report brought the deadly attack against the UN Peace Keeping Operation (PKO), which left two Chinese PKO soldiers dead and five wounded, back to the debates, as well as China`s role in peace and security operations in Africa.
As China`s economic presence and political influence grow rapidly, African countries, as well as Chinese enterprises and citizens operating in Africa, all expect China to shoulder more responsibilities regarding peace and security issues. China has deployed infantry units in only two African countries, Mali and South Sudan, and both deployments have been attacked and suffered casualties. It seems like a new wave of terrorism and political instability has started to emerge in Africa. To address the dilemma of China being asked to provide more military capacity as the danger of doing so increases, we must make China`s approach to African peace and security clear and comprehensive.
There are three facts about China`s role in African peace and security that need to be clarified.
Firstly, China is one of the major contributors for UN PKO. In 2015, China provided 6.64 percent of the UN PKO budget, behind only US, Japan, France, Germany and UK. The PLA currently deploys 2,639 personnel for UN PKO, including 2,436 troops, 173 police officers and 30 military experts, the most among all the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC).
Secondly, China has been upholding the principle of non-interference since the establishment of the people`s republic. Chinese deployment of military or police forces in Africa always require UN authorization and are under UN command.
Thirdly, Chinese military deployment for UN PKO is not equal to the military protection of Chinese interests overseas. Among all the operations, only the Chinese troops sent to South Sudan in 2015 were authorized to "protect foreign economic assets," including Chinese investments and working crews in the petroleum industry, alongside the main objective of "deterring violence against civilians."
Chinese enterprises operating in Africa number around 2,500 and are still growing. The Chinese population living in Africa has also reached to 1 to 1.5 million according to varied sources. Rapidly growing economic ties do bring benefits to Chinese people involved in those businesses, but also expose them to security threats in Africa, from terrorism, civil war, organized crime and political instability usually related to major elections. Facing all these challenges, we would need a comprehensive approach for a stable and safe Africa, starting from the points below.
We should adhere to the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. After six decades since 1950s, the Principles still act as general guidelines of international behaviors, and provide a basic framework for peaceful solution of conflicts. As the great strategist of the 1800s, Carl Von Clausewitz argued: "war is a mere continuation of diplomacy by other means." Therefore, political solutions are the ultimate way to solve conflicts. In this sense, China`s role in mediating between hostile parties is critical in cases like South Sudan and should be enhanced further.
For its wide representativeness and equality among all countries, the UN and UNSC should remain as the sole legitimate arbitrator for international disputes and dispatcher of PKO forces, rather than organizations like NATO, which is in nature a military alliance. At the same time, the African Union, as the most influential regional organization, should also play a more active role in peace and security issues with consent from the UNSC. In 2015, China pledged to provide a total of $100 million of military assistance for the African Union to establish the African Standby Force and African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crisis, which should contain emerging disturbances.
As the largest developing country in the world, China should become the bridge between African countries and traditional powers on peace and security issues like the civil war in South Sudan and the expansion of radicalism in Mali.
China should quickly build up a military presence stationed in Africa with a minimum capacity to react to cases like Libya in 2011. Early in this year, China begun to construct a maintenance and resupply facility in Djibouti. Although mainly for the rest and resupply of Chinese naval fleets participating in anti-piracy missions around that area, the facility could also became a base for counteractive measures should any incident potentially harmful to Chinese nationals occur in Africa.
2016 is considered to be an election year for Africa, during which a dozen of countries in this region have had or will have top leadership elections. Regarding its growing commercial interests and civilian presence in Africa, China must act quickly to provide better protection for them and to deter potential threats.
The author is a research fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China; Zhiyi Fan, who is an assistant intern at RDCY, also made contributions.