View Full Version : Chinese military on the global stage

19-09-06, 12:13
News analysis: Chinese military on the global stage

By David Lague International Herald Tribune


BEIJING When the remains of a Chinese peacekeeper, Lieutenant Colonel Du Zhaoyu, were ceremonially returned to his homeland last month, the top Beijing leadership sent a clear signal that his sacrifice was appreciated.

State-controlled media showed President Hu Jintao and other senior civilian and military officials attending Du's funeral Aug. 4 at Babaoshan Revolutionary cemetery in Beijing, where they paid tribute to the United Nations military observer who was killed in an Israeli air strike on southern Lebanon.

Du was the eighth Chinese peacekeeper to die serving with the UN since 1988 but Beijing appears increasingly willing to bear casualties and meet the cost of an expanding military role in these complex and sometimes dangerous missions.

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao confirmed Monday that China would raise its contribution to the international peacekeeping force in Lebanon to a total of 1,000 troops - an increase of more than 800, according to UN figures.

This will be China's biggest single deployment of peacekeepers since Beijing began contributing to UN mandated forces in the late 1980s.

And, it is further evidence that along with mounting economic power, an increasingly confident China is prepared to deploy military and police forces to bolster its diplomatic influence and national prestige.

"China wants to be seen to be playing a much larger role on the international stage," said Allen Behm, a Canberra-based security analyst and former senior Australian Defense Department official. "And, it wants to be seen to be contributing to the maintenance of global peace and security."

Before the reinforcement of its Lebanon contingent, China had about 1,650 troops and police serving with UN peacekeeping missions, according to the UN.

This is the biggest contribution to these missions of any of the permanent five members of the UN Security Council, a fact that analysts say underscores China's commitment to the world body's role in containing conflicts.

Since it first deployed a peacekeeping force to Cambodia in 1992, China has sent military or police teams on missions to trouble spots including the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Liberia, East Timor, Kosovo, Haiti, Afghanistan and Bosnia.

Earlier this year, China dispatched more than 180 peacekeepers, mostly engineers involved in mine clearing, to join a long standing, 2000-strong UN force in Lebanon. This was China's first deployment on this type of mission to the Middle East.

The UN now wants to increase its peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon to about 15,000 following the truce last month that ended 34 days of fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters.

European powers including Italy, which has committed 2,500 troops, and France, which plans to deploy about 2000, have led the international effort to recruit extra peacekeepers. Germany is planning to deploy about 2,400 air and naval personnel and lead a multinational naval force.

Wen announced China's increased contribution at a joint press conference in Beijing with Prime Minister Romano Prodi of Italy.

Prodi welcomed China's move, saying, "This shows that China is assuming more and more international responsibility."

For China, sending troops on UN sanctioned peacekeeping missions serves to counter widespread suspicion that its rapid military build-up is a threat to the security of its neighbors or other international powers.

More than three decades of solid economic growth has delivered Beijing the means to rapidly increase defense spending and to upgrade the 2.3 million strong People's Liberation Army.

In its annual report on the Chinese military, the Pentagon warned in May that the pace and breadth of Beijing's military build-up had altered the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region.

"Current trends in China's military modernization could provide China with a force capable of prosecuting military operations well beyond Taiwan, potentially posing a credible threat to modern militaries operating in the region," the report said.

Some analysts believe the positive image gained from peacekeeping missions is also useful for Beijing as it continues its campaign to convince the European Union to lift an arms embargo imposed after the Chinese military led a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters near Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Under intense pressure from Washington, the EU has maintained the embargo but some European powers, including France, agree that the ban should be lifted.

In Beijing, Prodi signaled that Italy would also support an end to the ban, saying, "Italy also leans to lifting the embargo of arms sales to China."

A big deployment of peacekeepers could also enhance China's standing in the Middle East.

China is the world's second biggest consumer of oil behind the United States and relies on the Middle East for close to 60 per cent of its imports, according to energy experts, and that dependence is expected to grow in the decades ahead.

The presence of Chinese peacekeepers on a tense Middle East battlefield demonstrates that Beijing is prepared to contribute to the security of a turbulent region, analysts say.

Military experts say that peacekeeping missions are also good for the PLA as it seeks to upgrade the training and technical skills of its vast military force.

On peacekeeping duty, Chinese officers gain exposure to the operational practices and methods of foreign military forces.

This was a sharp departure from decades of isolation from contact and exchanges with foreign counterparts.

"They get to benchmark themselves against other troops they are with," Behm said.