China’s President Xi Jinping yesterday addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations, promising significant contributions and a greater commitment to UN peacekeeping missions.

Xi promised a contribution of 8,000 troops to a UN peacekeeping standby force as well as US$100 million for the African Union to support the establishment of an African standby force and to boost its emergency response capacity.

Xi’s latest commitments are consistent with Beijing’s long-standing desire to expand the PLA’s capabilities further, creating armed forces that will play a greater role overseas and increase China’s engagement on global security issues.

China has dramatically increased its peacekeeping deployments in recent years. In 2000, the country deployed fewer than 100 peacekeepers; now, it contributes more than any other permanent member of the UN Security Council.

With 161 police, 36 military experts and 2,882 troops, China is currently the ninth-largest contributor to the UN’s peacekeeping missions, with most personnel concentrated in Africa.

The new deployments will make China one of the biggest players in UN peacekeeping. Currently, Bangladesh and Ethiopia are the only two countries to contribute more than 8,000 uniformed personnel to the UN’s peacekeeping missions.

The United States and Japan remain the top two providers of assessed contributions to UN peacekeeping operations, providing 28 per cent and 11 per cent of expenditure respectively. At a little over six and a half per cent, China is the sixth-largest backer.

Chinese peacekeeper. Photo: Wikicommons.

In total, more than 40,000 new troops and police were pledged by over 50 nations during a UN summit chaired by US President Barack Obama on Monday.

Redefining China’s place in the UN

Xi opened his speech by reminding UN member states of China’s immense sacrifices in what he called “the World Anti-Fascist War”—although the country was led throughout the conflict (better known as World War II) not by Mao’s Communists but by their historical rival, Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government.

The Republic of China became one of the founding members of the United Nations and its Security Council after achieving victory over Japan in 1945. Although a civil war, reignited by the Communists, forced Chiang to retreat to Taiwan four years later, Taipei retained China’s place in the General Assembly and Security Council until other member states voted to transfer the China seat to Beijing in 1971.

Wartime poster for the United Nations created by the US Office of War Information in 1942. Photo: Wikicommons.

Xi also used his speech as an opportunity to call for “a new approach to state-to-state relations” in which “big countries should treat small countries as equals” and conflicts are resolved through dialogue rather than confrontation.

While the country’s radically increased commitment to international peacekeeping  has offered a response to criticism that China has not assumed the global responsibilities befitting a country of its size, references to this “win-win” approach to diplomacy sought to reassure regional neighbours of China’s good intentions.

As territorial claims in the South and East China Seas continue to cause friction in the region, however, neighbours will be anxious to see if Beijing’s actions match Xi’s rhetoric on Monday.

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick is an award-winning journalist and scholar from Hong Kong who has reported on the city’s politics, protests, and policing for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, TIME, The Guardian, The Independent, and others