United Nations General Assembly

China puts benevolent face forward with Xi's pledges

Mr Xi stressed that China did not intend to be an expansionist hegemonic power.
Mr Xi stressed that China did not intend to be an expansionist hegemonic power.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Doubts persist as China leader makes conciliatory speech vowing funds, troops for peace and development efforts

Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged money and troops to the United Nations development and peacekeeping efforts as he used his maiden appearance at the UN General Assembly to present China as a benevolent global force.

In a half-hour speech before world leaders, he sought to undercut much of the criticism lobbed at China in recent months, stressing that the country supports the rules-based international order established by the United Nations and had no intentions of being an expansionist hegemonic power.

He announced a series of ambitious initiatives meant to underwrite that message: a 10-year US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) China- UN peace and development fund to support the organisation's work; a peacekeeping standby force of 8,000 troops that can be deployed at short notice; and US$100 million in military assistance to the African Union over five years to help it build capacity to respond to crises.

The commitment of troops was especially noteworthy as China's contribution is among the largest so far to the new UN Peacekeeping Capability Readiness System. Some 50 countries have so far pledged about 50,000 troops to the force.

President Xi also sought to position China as the voice of developing countries in the UN. "China's vote in the United Nations will always belong to the developing countries," he said.

And while the speech on Monday was conciliatory as a whole, there were thinly veiled jabs at the likes of the United States and Japan.

Referring to the recent Chinese parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II, he said that remembering the past is not perpetuating hatred. "It is for mankind not to forget its lesson. Remembering history does not mean being obsessed with the past. Rather, in doing so, we aim to create a better future and pass the torch of peace from generation to generation."

He also appeared to take aim at US interventions abroad.

"The principle of sovereignty not only means that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries are inviolable and their internal affairs are not subjected to interference. It also means that all countries' right to independently choose social systems and development paths should be upheld."

President Xi's speech came during a morning that also featured addresses from the leaders of the US, Russia, Iran and South Korea. Later in the day, Mr Xi met his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani and the two said they would boost cooperation after the landmark Iran nuclear deal lifts longstanding sanctions on the Middle East regime.

Analysts said the sentiments expressed by Mr Xi did not always square with Beijing's real world posture.

Senior associate with the East Asia Programme at the Stimson Centre Yun Sun said that the speech showed goodwill but also raised some contradictions.

"The commitment of contributions does not square the circle on China's many assertive and unilateral moves coming to its own narrow national interests, such as the maritime disputes or the cyber issues," she said.

Similarly, Mr Alexander Sullivan, adjunct fellow of the Asia-Pacific Security Programme at the Centre for a New American Security, said some of Mr Xi's statements might ring hollow.

"An objective view of many of Xi's statements in New York - for instance, that China will never seek expansion even as it attempts a slow-motion power grab in international and neighbouring waters - would make them ring quite hollow," he told The Straits Times.

"But the contradictions demonstrate the fact that China's rise has both destabilising and beneficial aspects. The task confronting Washington, the region and the world is to seize the latter while forestalling the former."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2015, with the headline 'China puts benevolent face forward with Xi's pledges'. Print Edition | Subscribe