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Peace and Humanitarian Issues Scene Setter David H. Shinn Elliott School of International Affairs George Washington University
Introduction I thank the organizers and especially the China Institute at the University of Alberta for inviting me to participate in this important conference. I want to emphasize that I do not represent the U.S. government; my views are my own. China excels in its relations with the fifty African governments that recognize Beijing. It accepts whatever government is in power whether it is democratic, autocratic, Islamic, or otherwise. As a result China has cordial relations with all fifty governments that recognize it. China is also quick to recognize new African governments and work with them immediately after regime change. It makes no difference to China how the change occurs. On the other hand, China pays relatively little attention to African civil society organizations, independent labor unions and opposition political parties. These groups are often anathema to Beijing. China’s emphasis is clearly on government to government collaboration. China has some form of security relationship, however modest, with every government in Africa that recognizes Beijing. When it comes to global security interests, however, Africa is well down Beijing’s priority list. It is well to bear this in mind at conferences that focus on Africa and that may give the impression Africa is at the center of China’s security policy. North America, major European powers and neighboring Russia head China’s list of security concerns followed by all of the countries on China’s periphery and a few in Southeast Asia and the Middle East that do not have a border with China. Only then does Africa come into the security picture followed by Latin America. 1
It is primarily, but not exclusively, investment in and access to natural resources in Africa that constitute China’s security interest in the continent. Over the past two decades, China has significantly increased its investment, engagement and influence in Africa. The corollary of this development is that it will become increasingly difficult for China to adhere to its long-standing principle of noninterference and support for state sovereignty. The first crack in this principle in the last two decades (there were a number of cracks in the 1960s) occurred with China’s role, viewed favorably by the West, in helping to pressure Sudan to accept the hybrid African UnionUnited Nations peacekeeping operation in Darfur. And that brings me to the subject of peacekeeping. Peacekeeping Since the early 1990s, peacekeeping is an area where China has not only worked cooperatively with the United Nations and Africa but also with the West. Following an initial period of skepticism about UN peacekeeping operations, China increasingly began to understand the need of aligning its national interests with those of the global community in enhancing stability. This resulted in greater flexibility by China in responding to requests to engage in UN peacekeeping. In Liberia, the United States and China even cooperated in building a military barracks for UN peacekeepers. About three-quarters of all Chinese peacekeepers are found in operations in Africa. From a Western perspective, this is an encouraging development. Western preferences for democratization, free markets and improved human rights practices impact its approach to peacekeeping. Although China has a different philosophical approach to peacekeeping that emphasizes political stability and economic development, these philosophical differences have not deterred China from making a valuable contribution to peacekeeping. Western countries accept the need to encourage political stability and economic development, but they believe it is necessary to go beyond that and promote democratization. Because UN peacekeeping in Africa is sanctioned by the overwhelming majority of African nations, China has concluded that its participation in such operations does not violate the sovereignty of African countries. Participation in UN peacekeeping demonstrates China’s policy of “peaceful development” and a “harmonious world” and sends the signal that it is acting as a “responsible power,” a term that it often uses to frame its involvement in UN peacekeeping. China uses the term responsible power as a way of being seen as a legitimate great power, but on its own terms. This engagement has practical benefits for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). It learns about foreign countries, provides experience in working alongside security forces from other nations and increases its effectiveness in some specialty areas where it has little experience. Engagement in peacekeeping can also help protect Chinese interests in Africa. In Liberia, for example, Chinese peacekeepers rescued Chinese fishermen from pirates. Finally, peacekeeping 2
helps to counter Western military power and negative perceptions about growing Chinese military spending. So far, China has participated in fifteen UN peacekeeping missions in Africa. As of the end of August 2012, China had more than 1,500 troops, experts and police assigned to six of Africa’s seven UN peacekeeping operations. This number constitutes more peacekeepers in African missions than any other permanent member of the UN Security Council. The troops are non-combatants, mostly engineers, logisticians, transport specialists and medical personnel. While China has not yet contributed combat troops to UN peacekeeping operations, it does not appear to have excluded this possibility. Most of them are assigned to Liberia, South Sudan, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On the other hand, China provides only about 4 percent of the UN peacekeeping budget while the United States pays about 27 percent. Canada contributes almost as much as China. China has provided modest financial support for African Union peacekeeping efforts in both Darfur and Somalia. So far, however, it has eschewed deeper involvement such as the training of African Union troops that are participating in these operations. Chinese peacekeepers in Africa have been widely praised. The only sour note has come from a couple of rebel groups in Sudan’s Darfur region that have publicly criticized the presence of Chinese peacekeepers. Counter Piracy Operations A security issue related to peacekeeping is the international anti-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden. Chinese flagged vessels and Chinese crews have been subject to successful Somali pirate attacks. It is in China’s interest to contribute to the international effort to end Somali piracy. Since 2008, China has rotated on a continuing basis two frigates and a supply ship in support of this effort. This represents the PLA Navy’s first operational deployments beyond the immediate western Pacific region. Although the Chinese ships operate independently of any coalition task force, their contribution has been professional and welcomed by the other participants, including the US Navy. Arms Sales to Africa Unlike support for peacekeeping and counter-piracy efforts in Africa, which garner almost universal praise, Chinese arms sales to Africa have encountered a decidedly mixed reaction. African governments, especially those such as Sudan and Zimbabwe facing Western sanctions, are pleased to have access to Chinese weapons, which are often of good quality and low cost. Certain groups opposing established governments such as the Sudan People’s
Liberation Movement during the civil war in Sudan and rebel groups in Darfur have been highly critical of China and other suppliers of weapons to Khartoum. Chinese weapons are increasingly showing up in conflict zones such as Somalia, Darfur and the Eastern Congo together with arms from other countries, including some Western countries. I am not suggesting that China supplies these weapons to rebel groups engaged in conflict, but the growing volume of Chinese arms in Africa simply results in more of them finding their way into conflict zones. China has also prevented publication of some reporting by the UN that details the existence of Chinese weapons in conflict zones. In recent years, China has provided about 20 percent of the conventional weapons going into Africa. The percentage is probably higher for small arms and light weapons, but there are no reliable statistics for this category of weapons. Chinese companies are devoting more effort to selling their weapons in Africa. China had the largest contingent of foreign exhibitors at the 2010 Africa Aerospace and Defence show in South Africa and has recently made strong efforts to sell its equipment at shows in the United Arab Emirates and France, which attract significant numbers of African buyers. China reportedly sells arms to sixteen African countries, more than any other top arms trader from outside the region. Chinese companies, of course, are not alone in efforts to sell arms to Africa. Companies from many other nations, including some Western companies, are also doing so. China is, however, less transparent with information concerning arms sales and has shown less willingness to work to prevent its weapons from entering conflict areas such as Darfur since 2003, Liberia from 2001 to 2003, Chad in 2006, Ethiopia and Eritrea during their war from 1998 to 2000, and Rwanda in 1994. Disaster Relief China has a long history of providing modest amounts of disaster relief to African countries. Most of the early donations had a dollar value of less than $1 million. In recent years, China has increased its disaster relief for Africa. In 2003, for example, when Algeria experienced an earthquake, China sent emergency relief supplies valued at more than $5 million. In 2004, China established a mechanism for humanitarian emergency response for disaster relief. Since then, China has provided emergency relief supplies such as food and tents to Sudan, Madagascar, Burundi, Tanzania, Somalia, Ethiopia, Lesotho and Zimbabwe. In 2011, China announced a contribution of $82 million in emergency food aid and funding for droughtstricken countries in the Horn of Africa. Disaster relief has become an increasingly important part of China’s engagement in Africa and one which would benefit from close coordination with other donor nations and international organizations.
Security Threats to Chinese Nationals in Africa As China’s physical presence increases in Africa, it is not surprising that its nationals are subject to increasing attacks such as those experienced by other foreigners. More than a dozen Chinese business persons have been kidnapped and eventually released in the Niger Delta. In 2007, the Ogaden National Liberation Front attacked a Chinese oil prospecting base in Ethiopia resulting in the death of nine Chinese personnel. In 2008, Darfur rebels attacked a Chinese petroleum operation in Southern Kordofan. In the rescue attempt, four died and one went missing. In 2011, China successfully evacuated 35,000 workers from Libya. In view of the large number of Chinese nationals living and working in Africa, these incidents have become more common. They underscore the utility of cooperating with the international community in helping to build stability in African countries and working together when trouble does break out. I have raised a number of security issues. I hope they will encourage a vigorous response by the panelists and questions from the audience.
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