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15/03/2007 | China: The Responsible Stakeholder's Overseas Operations

Stratfor Staff

A People's Liberation Army (PLA) delegate to the Chinese National People's Congress (NPC) suggested March 12 that the NPC draft a law regulating military operations overseas.

 

In recent years, China has stepped up its deployment of military personnel in U.N. peacekeeping operations, for search-and-rescue training and for bilateral and multilateral military exercises. As the NPC deputy has suggested, the PLA is going to become even more involved in the future, as Beijing demonstrates its role as a "responsible stakeholder."

In a meeting on the sidelines of the annual Chinese National People's Congress (NPC) session in Beijing on March 12, Zeng Haisheng, an NPC delegate representing the People's Liberation Army (PLA), suggested that the NPC draft legislation to deal with increasing PLA participation in search-and-rescue and military training abroad and in U.N. peacekeeping operations. Zeng, a major general and deputy director of the general office of the PLA General Staff Headquarters and sister of Vice President Zeng Qinghong, called on the NPC to "enact a law to define the validity of such operations and guarantee the interests of our army men," the official news agency Xinhua reported.

In recent years, China has seen a steady rise in the number of personnel it contributes to U.N. peacekeeping missions. Though there has been a slight increase in police forces sent abroad, there has been a marked growth in the number of troops sent on U.N. missions. In February 2003, China had no troops participating in U.N. missions, only military observers or police. By February 2007, military troops made up 87 percent of the 1,814 Chinese personnel on U.N. peacekeeping missions. China had 1,573 troops deployed on U.N. missions: 565 in Liberia, 446 in Sudan, 343 in Lebanon, 218 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and one in East Timor.

In addition, China has military observers and/or police in Western Sahara, Haiti, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kosovo, Cote d'Ivoire and various places in the Middle East. China is currently the 13th-largest contributor of personnel to U.N. peacekeeping operations, far exceeding the 317 U.S. personnel participating in U.N. peacekeeping operations (the United States is 43rd among contributors). A legal framework to cover the growing number of overseas Chinese personnel is needed to keep up with the changing reality.

But it is the continually changing dynamic of Chinese involvement that is most noticeable. Despite its permanent membership on the U.N. Security Council, China has played a very small role in U.N. operations, preferring instead to play a political role. But Beijing's need for energy and other natural resources has expanded as the economy barrels along, and it has made the strategic decision to become much more engaged globally. In part to avoid raising concerns or drawing criticism of expansionism or aggression, China has increased its international operations via U.N. missions, joint military training, and exercises and participation in maritime security and rescue operations and humanitarian relief initiatives.

These have all been couched as aimed at ensuring global peace and stability rather than serving China's strategic interests. But as China's reliance on foreign supplies of critical natural resources continues to expand, Beijing is preparing for another evolution in its international interaction -- an expansion not only of its overseas political and economic involvement, but also of its security role. Beijing will present this as a response to the U.S. call for China to be a "responsible stakeholder" in the international system -- and Chinese troops certainly will appear in places the United States would rather not go, so long as there is international sanction for such actions.

This does not mean China is about to add the military to its tools of economic negotiation and diplomatic persuasion. Beijing has many problems at home, and has neither the resources nor the inclination to become a global policeman. But it does want to increase its tools of global influence, protect natural resource flows and weaken opposition to Chinese military reform -- demonstrating that it is reliable and nonaggressive when it comes to military interventions. It also furthers Beijing's case for multilateralism, showing China as a responsible alternative to the United States when it comes to security relationships.

China's military involvement in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations creates a sense that Beijing is doing its part as a global player, provides additional avenues of influence and resource security for China, and offers operational training for the PLA on the ground and in logistics and deployment. Though Beijing is not yet ready to shape the new regulations covering its overseas security operations, the discussion broached by Zeng is a clear indication that the government and the PLA are planning additional developments in China's overseas role for the PLA.

Stratfor (Estados Unidos)

 


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