Wednesday, November 18, 2009

China seeks reform of UN peacekeeping

Interesting timing, right after Obama's China visit.

China seeks reform of UN peacekeeping
By Kathrin Hille in Beijing
Published: November 18 2009 02:00 | Last updated: November 18 2009 02:00

China will convene an unprecedented conference on international peacekeeping in Beijing today, in a sign it is seeking to shape the future of an area in which it plays a rapidly growing role.

The ministry of national defence has invited Alain Le Roy, United Nations undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, military officials and defence attachés from many countries and representatives of the Red Cross, for four days of discussions on how the UN peacekeeping system should be reformed.

Beijing's step follows an appeal by the UN secretariat earlier this year to redefine the scope of peacekeeping operations, which have increased fivefold and grown in complexity over the past decade, and to seek a new dialogue with contributors of troops and funds.

Some developed countries, especially in Europe, want more robust peacekeeping mandates, which could include tasks such as disarming and demobilising conflicting parties. But many developing countries, which provide most peacekeeping troops, have a more conservative stance, wary of being seen to take sides or of being drawn into combat situations.

China's participation in international peacekeeping has soared since 2002 as it has taken a broader view of its security interests.

In August, it was the largest contributor of personnel among UN Security Council members and the 14th-largest contributor overall with 2,155 military and civilian staff in peacekeeping operations. Most of these are in Africa - notably Liberia, Darfur, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo - with some also in Lebanon.

"For Beijing, the participation presents an opportunity to reassure the international community of its peaceful intentions while establishing its image as a great power," said Bates Gill, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and co-author of a report on China's expanding role in peacekeeping.

Beijing has so far limited its participation to non-combat tasks, sending only transport, engineering, logistics and medical personnel. The Stockholm institute recommends that China be given a more active role in policy planning and leadership in UN peacekeeping operations, and that Beijing be encouraged to diversify its contributions, especially with regard to combat troops.

"It is hard to imagine that they would back more robust concepts of 'peacebuilding' which would involve combat and taking sides," said an official who has been invited to the conference. "That cuts into their principle of non-intervention."

"We don't normally associate peacekeeping reform with the Chinese," said Chin-Hao Huang, a security expert at the University of Southern California who co-authored the Stockholm institute report.