China Rising? Why the west should welcome Chinese boots on the ground in Africa

Hugely significant but of limited interest to the media has been China’s offer of 500 combat troops to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali. China’s involvement in peacekeeping is nothing new. It is one of the largest contributors to UN peacekeeping operations around the world. What’s different and a first, is the offer of front line combat troops rather than engineers or medics.

Historically China has declined to get involved in what it perceives as the internal affairs of another state. It’s going too far to say this deployment would represent doctrinal change but it does show the increasing strategic significance of Africa to China. China has now overtaken the USA as Africa’s main trading partner and as such Africa represents a growing “sphere of influence”

English: US Army in Somalia 1992, Operation Re...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As yet the UN has not accepted or denied the offer. China should be actively encouraged to join more peace keeping and peace buildingĀ missions . What the world wants is a China that acts responsibly both at home and abroad. Involvement in the Mali mission is a perfect opportunity to help China develop a positive foreign policy posture.

The US and Europe are often loathe to commit troops to Africa unless there is the threat of terrorism or regime change in favor of an extreme Islamist government. After Somalia and Operation Restore Hope troop deployments have been considered both counter productive and politically untenable.

China does not carry the historical baggage of the West with regard to botched operations and accusations of neo-colonialism. China lending its weight to ill equipped and often under strength UN missions in Africa could well be a good thing. It’s certainly a more attractive option to poorly trained African Union led peacekeeping missions.

Over time China’s growing “spheres of influence” in the developing world may increase tension with the USA. But there is another alternative. An active China collaborating with multi-national partners in a mutually beneficial manner.

In the grand scheme of peace keeping missions 500 Chinese troops isn’t significant but its symbolism is huge.

China has extended its hand. The UN and the west should accept. It would be hypocritical not to and only encourage the sort of siege mentality often attributed to China.