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Troops Boost International Presence Of China

China started sending troops on peacekeeping missions relatively recently, sending its first contingents, totalling 400 engineers and about 50 observers, on missions between 1992 and 1994.
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Sep 19, 2006
China has decided to bolster its peacekeeping forces in Lebanon to reinforce its international presence and shore up its energy interests in the Middle East, analysts say. Premier Wen Jiabao announced Monday that China would raise the number of peacekeepers it has in Lebanon from about 200 to 1,000, as part of an international effort to quell conflict between Israel and Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group.

Beijing would also give Lebanon 40 million yuan (five million dollars) in humanitarian assistance, including 20 million yuan that has been already sent, Wen said.

"Whether in the Middle East or in other places, what counts for China is to project an image of power," said Valerie Niquet, the director of the Asia Center at the Paris-based French Institute of International Relations.

"Obviously, one of the elements is the capacity of China to show that it participates as a major power in major international issues, notably in peacekeeping operations."

China started sending troops on peacekeeping missions relatively recently, sending its first contingents, totalling 400 engineers and about 50 observers, on missions between 1992 and 1994.

The move broke with previous Maoist political policies that viewed collective security as an instrument of American imperialism.

"This would be the first time that China will deploy such a large military force," said Jocelyn Coulon, the director of a research network on peacekeeping operations at the University of Montreal.

"One question worth knowing is whether these troops will be put on patrol along the border between Israel and Lebanon, or at infrastructure projects.

"It has been noted that in peacekeeping operations the Chinese try to avoid human losses and try to deploy their units in places where they won't have contact with other parties involved and are not in a position where they will have to shoot."

As a result, China has largely sent engineers, medical personnel and civilian police units as part of peacekeeping deployments, he said.

Chinese deployments are also in line with the Asian giant's growing thirst for oil and natural resources, he said.

"I think that China's participation was asked for by many Arab nations in the region," Coulon said.

"As China is desperately seeking oil supplies and other major resources, they are also showing that they can contribute to the peace and security of the region and play a role in international affairs," he said.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a China expert and research director at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, said Beijing was working to juggle its relations with the various secular, Islamic and oil-rich Arab nations.

China is keen to maintain its direct military cooperation with Israel at the same time, he said.

"China's politics is a politics of equilibrium, but at times they try to walk a tightrope," Cabestan said.

He added that by participating in missions under the UN Charter, which constrains the use of force, China can stay faithful to its traditional diplomacy of opposing interference in other countries' internal affairs.

"Up until now, Beijing has hesitated to engage more into the affairs of the Mideast, most notably because this means it will have to take sides," said Yitzhak Shichor, professor of East Asian Studies at Haifa University in Israel.

"But participating in UN peacekeeping could be considered an alternative to direct engagement and allows them not to take sides."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing meets in New York with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Monday and both agreed to further strengthen bilateral ties.

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