China plans to boost aid, troops for peace ops

Moves outlined in latest White Paper may lift global image as US rethinks role abroad

China plans to increase its foreign aid to the least developed countries over the next five years, according to a White Paper released by its State Council.

It will also take on more international peacekeeping commitments to help "promote peace that will drive development".

These expanded efforts to send aid and peacekeepers overseas come as the United States is rethinking its role in these areas.

Experts say such moves are a way for China to show that it is a responsible member of global society as well as improve its international image.

"China has achieved success with its development, and it's time for the country to contribute to the world," said African studies expert Liu Hongwu at Zhejiang Normal University.

Without going into specifics, the White Paper outlines six "One Hundred Programmes", where China pledges to implement 100 projects each in poverty reduction, agricultural cooperation, trade aid, environmental protection and climate change, healthcare and education in developing countries.

It said China would also provide 120,000 training opportunities and 150,000 scholarships, as well as train an additional 500,000 technical personnel for developing countries.

According to the White Paper, which was released on Thursday, China has given 400 billion yuan (S$83 billion) in aid to 166 countries and international organisations over the past 60 years.

China does not collect or publish details about its aid programmes on a regular basis. This is the third time it has revealed its aid numbers, but no breakdown was provided.

According to a report on China's foreign aid released by the State Council in 2014, nearly half of the total aid provided between 2010 and 2012 went to building infrastructure. In terms of geographical breakdown, half of what China gave out during the period went to Africa.

Apart from monetary aid, the White Paper said, China has trained more than 12 million people from developing countries and sent more than 600,000 aid workers overseas, of whom 700 died during their missions.

It also outlined the country's active role in international peacekeeping, with more than 2,600 Chinese peacekeepers involved in 10 United Nations operations. Of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, China has deployed the most peacekeepers, including those sent to conflict areas such as South Sudan.

The White Paper stated China's commitment to doing more to maintain world peace to "improve conditions for development".

"China will join the new United Nations peacekeeping standby mechanism, take the lead in establishing regular peacekeeping police force units and organise peacekeeping standby forces," said the White Paper.

Fudan University foreign policy analyst Shen Dingli said China has always been active in sending troops overseas. He said: "We send our troops out there to help others settle their conflicts - in South Sudan and in Mali. Naturally, they will be grateful to us.

"It's good for our global image and a chance for China to step in to replace the US in this area as the US is not interested in sending people for such peacekeeping missions."

But a greater international role in areas including peacekeeping could come at a price. In July, two Chinese peacekeepers were killed in South Sudan, igniting debate over whether China should risk the lives of its people in conflicts that do not involve the country.

"As a big country entering the global stage, we need to be able to shoulder the risks involved. The people will slowly get used to it," said Dr Liu.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2016, with the headline 'China plans to boost aid, troops for peace ops'. Print Edition | Subscribe