China & UN Peacekeeping

April 17, 2009

The International Crisis Group just published this report on China’s expanding role in UN peacekeeping operations.

Demand for blue helmets far outpaces supply, and shows no sign of abating. Concurrent to the sharp increase in peacekeeping missions since the end of the Cold War, Western countries have been withdrawing or reducing their commitments. While continuing to provide robust financial support to UN peacekeeping, they send far fewer personnel. Although China’s financial support for peacekeeping remains modest, it is now the second largest provider of peacekeepers among the five permanent members of the UNSC. While it does not currently provide combat troops, its provision of civilian police, military observers, engineering battalions and medical units fills a key gap and is important to the viability and success of UN peacekeeping operations.

China’s growing peacekeeping role is not really news, but the ICG has provided balanced coverage of this role with this report.  Worth the read.



Water conflicts are more likely to take place on an individual or community level as a “conflict”, rather than on a state-level as a “crisis”. The last time two states went to war over water was 4,500 years ago (“Dehydrating Conflict”)! However, in China alone, there were over 120,000 recorded conflicts over water quantity from 1990 to 2002. Therefore, there is a need to look at intra-state water conflict management systems.
A look at a few cases in China would illustrate the problems and potential solutions. The Three Gorges Dam is a project subsuming energy development, economic stimulus, geographical reallocation of water and ecological threat. Yet, it has flooded archaeological and cultural sites and displaced some 1.24 million people. Over one billion tons of wastewater is release, annually into the river, causing dramatic ecological changes. The question lingers of whether the human and environmental costs are too great compared to the economic growth achieved.

There is also competition between cities: Beijing, in need to provide sufficient drinking water to its residents, got into conflict with the neighbouring municipality of Tianjin because of a reservoir project that draws water from the upper reaches of the Juhe River which runs through both cities. Both cities refused to compromise, so what can be done in this situation?

When water conflicts are not well-managed, drastic consequences can appear.  In Zhejiang province, villagers got so fed up with the polluting discharges reaching them along rivers from the textile factories in Jiangsu province that they created their own dam in the 50-meter-wide river.

In China, disputes between villages, cities and provinces are often resolved by the central government in an ad hoc, case-by-case fashion. Despite improving environmental laws to allow victims of pollution to seek compensation, no formal institute or private organization has been set up to provide third-party mediation on environmental disputes.

From a Human Security point of view, much improvements could be made in China’s water conflict management strategies.

First, there is a stress on meeting the water needs of each individual, and not just the state. This would prevent disproportionate sacrificing of people’s interests and the environment for the sake of economic growth, as it arguably was done in the Three Gorges Project.

Second, a higher priority would be given to water as an urgent security need. This stems from the ‘freedom from want’ school that access to water is a fundamental basic tenet to human security. This is evident as water is also inextricably linked to poverty. Treating water needs as a priority would imply that the government needs to establish a comprehensive framework for water conflict management, and not just deal with it on an ad-hoc basis.

Thirdly, human security acknowledges the capacity for cooperation and collaboration. This means that all stakeholders should be included in water conflict resolution processes, and not just having the government decide. Moreover, when processes are at a stalemate, as in the example of conflict between Beijing and Tianjin, a competent third-party could be called in to mediate. The World Bank in the case of the Indus Water Treaty was a successful example of third-party mediation.

Given that most water conflicts are intra-state, there is a need to develop a plausible framework to address these conflicts. How can we refine our security framework strategically to resolve the huge numbers and different types of water conflicts, especially those that occur within the state?

By Carmen, Ng Ka Man & Angie, Chan Nga Ki

Amidst the international debate on humanitarian intervention in Darfur, civil society movements have proliferated and pressurized state actors to better respond to the cause of “Responsibility to Protect”(R2P).  However, such movements do not come without their own problems.

On one hand, a state’s political will to intervene for humanitarian causes is greatly affected by its domestic politics. Thus, the involvement of civil society is capable of making R2P more effective by pressurizing and eliciting political will from hesitant state actors. The traumatic failures of the US in Vietnam War and in Somalia, for example, have rendered it reluctant in intervening in subsequent conflicts. In the Darfur crisis, however, vibrant US-based social movements have helped the US government incrementally recognize and act against the genocide along with the international community.

The US-based “Save Darfur” Coalition comprises more than 180 religious and human rights NGOs, gaining the support of politicians and celebrities alike, among them are George Clooney and the then Senator Obama. It has carried out a number of campaigns to urge the US government to increase its support to civilians in Darfur and has helped pressure China to review its own Darfur policy through the “Genocide Olympics” campaign. The peril in Darfur has also spurred the use of disinvestment campaigns (not without controversy) as a general strategy to pressure corporations to divest in Chinese oil companies, which are seen as funding the genocide in Darfur.

On the other hand, such social activism has its shortcomings. For all the momentum and scale of various campaigns calling for humanitarian intervention, these campaigns often lack balanced policy discussions and multi-actor political agreements in order to work out long-term outcomes to the underlying issues in Darfur. On a more radical note, the ‘Save Darfur” Coalition has been criticized as a tool used by the US government to prevent the consolidation of Chinese influence in Africa and gain control over Sudan’s oil reserves. What’s more, whilst humanitarian intervention through the deployment of UN troops has been repeatedly called for, little emphasis is put on the need to fund and strengthen the African Union forces in Darfur, which brings up questions of Western biases.

Despite the success of civil movements in garnering public awareness, we cannot turn a blind eye to the hidden stakes involved. If the huge international attention on Darfur is purely out of humanitarian concern, why has the crisis in Congo over the same period—which has left 10-20 times as many as Africans dead plus massive sexual violence—not received as much domestic and international attention as Darfur? Ultimately, how effective is civil society in changing foreign policy with respect to humanitarian intervention under R2P?

By Marianna Ho and Rebecca Lau

Although tardy changes are occuring in Western perceptions of the Darfur tragedy, little seems to have changed in China’s relations with Sudan.  In fact, China remains one of the country’s leading economic partners. By extension, China can be seen to support Khartoum’s terror both directly—being the main supplier of small arms and providing technical assistance towards the development of indigenous weapon production—and indirectly—by pouring investments into Sudan’s oil industry.

There are two main explanations for China’s reluctance to review its policies. The first stems from purely internal concerns; in fact, the Chinese government’s legitimacy is strongly linked to its ability to further economic growth, for which stable access to cheap resources is integral. The second lies in a distinctive interpretation of R2P, commonplace in the developing world, where the principle tends to be depicted as an unacceptably vague concept favouring Western interests. In other words, R2P is conceptualised as a device legitimating selective Western interference with the internal affairs of certain states. This is partly why China seeks to remove the human security agenda from the international discussion board.

So far, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has systematically blocked any strong sanctions on Sudan. Instead, it has adopted a more traditional outlook on state sovereignty, pleading for ‘soft measures’ and ‘patience’, which in practice would only prolong the sufferings in Darfur.

Skepticism fused with disinclination towards potential economic burden have been the main factors that pre-determined China’s disposition to neutrality and promotion of passive solutions with regard to the humanitarian disaster in Sudan.With the Darfur crisis continuing, do you think that R2P can ever override China’s national priorities and bring a positive, not a negative effort, to solve this crisis?

By Matthew Clayton and Dmitrij Cesniuk


The Asia Society has a new video documentary on the environmental challenges facing the Tibetan plateau, which may, as the excerpt below illustrates, have a profound impact on regional water supplies.

As the source of most of the major river systems in Asia from China to Pakistan, including the Yellow, the Yangtze, the Mekong, the Salween, the Brahmaputra, the Ganges and the Indus, the Tibetan Plateau has become an epicenter of crisis. With the retreating of its glaciers – what glaciologist Lonnie Thompson has called the “fresh water bank account” of Asia – rivers and lakes have started running lower, pastures have become drier, deserts larger, weather patterns more unpredictable. Indeed, the whole ecosystem of the Tibetan Plateau and its hinterland are now slipping toward a catastrophic environmental disaster which will have continental implications far beyond the plateau itself.

Human security students should take the time to at least browse through this site, as our modules on water resources in Asia and climate change are directly related.

For your reading pleasure, China’s latest climate change policy comments (“中国应对气候变化的政策与行动,”中华人民共和国 国务院新闻办公室, 二○○八年十月, 北京).

Hat Tip: Wall Street Journal

Human Security Applied

So if traditional human rights, development and national security approaches to community vulnerability have all proved insufficient by themselves to equip China to tackle the fundamental insecurities that plague Tibet, what then?

The answer lies in creating a model to tackle insecurity which combines the insights of all three, but also focuses on the needs of the people themselves rather than the needs of the state. Individual insecurity breeds instability at the community level and communal insecurity breeds insecurity at the state level. Human security provides a people-centered model of security which recognizes that economic, communal, health, environmental, political, and personal threats to individual lives are interconnected and should be addressed comprehensively in order to enhance security for the larger community.

While human security is defined differently by different observers, I would argue that, in addition to its focus on individual rather than state needs, the following characteristics serve to distinguish this approach to alleviating insecurity and suffering.

Security as a Multidimensional Phenomenon

Human security recognizes the need for a multi-faceted and integrated framework for grappling with the various levels of individual vulnerabilities. In today’s world, basic security is no longer simply the absence of threats of crime and violence. Human security in Tibet as elsewhere has a cultural, economic, environmental, political and health dimension as well. These threats need to be addressed comprehensively to get at the root causes of Tibetan insecurity.

For example, economic inequality and religious discrimination figure prominently in the Tibetan sense of insecurity. On the economic front, the claim is that CPG investments have not been made with the needs of local Tibetans in mind. To address this issue, Chinese leaders need to demonstrate how ordinary Tibetans are benefiting from central government investments and how rates of inequality between Tibetans and Han Chinese are improving instead of worsening. The religious and cultural dimensions of Tibetan insecurity are well documented (see here and here) but the import of this dimension to human insecurity in Tibet is sadly underappreciated by CPG officials. Meeting demands for Tibetan religious and cultural autonomy will enhance human security in Tibet, providing for greater regional stability.

These are just a few examples meant to illustrate that enhancing security in Tibet will entail changing attitudes towards how security is defined and practiced. It will entail listening and working with the people themselves in order to understand the sources of threats to their lives, instead of simply trying to impose traditional military solutions. Of course, increasing security for ordinary Tibetans cannot come at the expense of local Han Chinese, nor should police authorities neglect their responsibilities to bring to justice those who resort to violence to achieve their political ends. Expanding the scope of security does not mean abandoning these more traditional police functions. It will entail reaching out to other ministries and community stakeholders to re-envision how to work together to meet these expanded security goals.

Diverse Portfolio of Actors

Human Security views the state’s monopoly of power over security as an ineffective means to address the multitude of threats facing individuals. Police/military officials should “share the burden” and collaborate with other ministries, civil society organizations, businesses, media, UN agencies, and communities themselves to ensure that the full range of security needs are being met.

One of the advantages of operating among a diverse group of actors is that the diversity provides increased credibility and outreach potential of security policies. With regards to Tibet, international advocacy efforts would be more effective if they sought to include an assortment of stakeholders. For example, if an Interpol-led, Tibet-based community police training program, jointly funded by Canadian, European, African and South East Asian businesses existed, it would be a difficult program to dismiss as an example of “western interventionism.” Collaborating with religious leaders from around the world to formulate conditions acceptable to both sides on how to preserve Tibetan religious identity would seem to be another credible step that Chinese officials could take to reduce human insecurity in Tibet.

The reaction of the Chinese blogosphere to the Western media coverage of the March protests provides a further example of how mutual understanding is enhanced when a broader array of actors is involved. In this case, individual bloggers, human rights advocates, media organizations, student groups, and academics from China and the West have fruitfully interacted to better understand the preconceptions that Han Chinese, Tibetan and Westerners tend to bring to the discussions of this issue. The fact that the Chinese response was not orchestrated by the central government gave it greater credibility in Western eyes and helped foreign observers to better understand Chinese sentiments towards this issue. Despite some of the vitriolic language involved, I see this interaction as a positive example of the progress made when there is room for a broader array of actors to participate in the political dialogue.

Businesses are another group of stakeholders that have an important role to play in enhancing human security in Tibet and elsewhere in China. To begin with, local and multinational businesses can utilize the UN Global Compact guidelines in order to avoid complicity with human rights abuses. There is also an untapped potential for social entrepreneurship to grab hold in China. It is not difficult to imagine, for example, Tibetan provincial authorities hosting a US foundation, such as Skoll, to fund and train young social entrepreneurs on how to build partnerships between businesses, government agencies and local community groups in order to find creative business-oriented solutions for environmental or health issues in Tibetan areas.

In a country like China, with its long tradition of tight control over the reigns of power, especially in the area of security, decentralizing human security decision-making and delivery will be a difficult task to accomplish. While I will not review the need for political reform here, over the long run, nurturing and empowering local civil society organizations will be a key goal in order to address many of the weaknesses (corruption, unresponsiveness, unequal channels for representation) in China’s current governance frameworks. In the meantime, widening the array of actors involved in formulating and delivering services to Tibetan communities may also help promote a broader sense of ownership over these policies and lessen the animosity directed towards Chinese government officials.

Complements National Security Goals

Another feature of the Human Security approach that makes it applicable as a guide to decreasing individual vulnerability in Tibet is that it is meant to be complementary to national security aspirations. Security is not a zero sum, but a positive sum equation – meeting the human security needs of vulnerable communities will enhance security at the state level.

In the case of Tibet, the “independence movement” is a misnomer since most Tibetans (including the Dalai Lama) are not seeking independence from the Chinese state, but are seeking higher levels of autonomy. Even long time human rights advocates recognize that the right to self-determination does not mean a right to independence.

Personally, I am sympathetic to a “one country, two systems” approach to the problem of Tibet, despite the fact the CPG has already discounted this option for Tibet, largely because of underlying security fears. When similar security concerns over how Hong Kong’s autonomy could be used against China were raised, the issue was successfully resolved with the inclusion of stringent security language into Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law. It is difficult to imagine why similar creative compromises couldn’t be found in Tibet’s case.

To facilitate a solution which meets the needs of both Chinese and Tibetans, more dialogue should be promoted on how human security in Tibet is enhanced by Tibetan membership in the Chinese state. Too many Western observers discuss Tibetan self-determination as if it is a self-evident shared goal. I would like to see specific Tibetans gains from increased political autonomy clearly spelled out. Could these gains also be achieved without a radical shift in the political status quo? On the other hand, what does China gain from maintaining the current political status quo? What evidence does it have that a change in Tibet’s political status would be destabilizing to the country, when the evidence in Hong Kong’s case illustrates how political compromises can enhance national security and prestige?

The importance of security and stability at the individual level underpinning the stability of the greater collective is not new to Chinese culture. To paraphrase a famous Confucian saying:

To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right.

Achieving human security aspirations for Tibetans & Chinese is a two way street. Open and honest dialogue about deep-seated fears held by both sides will help facilitate sustainable compromises and prevent this conflict from further escalation. If dialogue and diplomacy stagnates between both sides, then neither side should consider it a failure to submit themselves to outside mediation.

Duties Beyond Traditional Boundaries

A final advantage of the Human Security approach is that it can be tailored to fit the circumstances of any community. As Deng Xioping said, “it doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.” In the case of Tibet, as long as the human security needs of local Tibetans and Chinese are mutually catered to, it doesn’t matter whether the final solution is labeled communist, democratic, or self-determination with Chinese-Tibetan characteristics.

The emergence of Human Security as a model for global security can be traced to dissatisfaction with how our state-centered global order has failed to provide for the basic human needs of millions of persons left behind as a result of poverty, war, crime, disease, displacement, environmental degradation, and or discrimination. Human Security argues that we must move beyond traditional boundaries (national and ideological) to recognize that our globally integrated arena operates most effectively when we all take responsibility for defending the dignity of all human beings, regardless of race, religion, creed, and nationality.

Admittedly, this idealistic premise remains a fairly foreign idea for most of us. But I would argue that this sense of global obligation grows with each generation, especially as the reality of our mutual vulnerability within our globally integrated environment becomes an ever-present fact of our lives.

For these reasons, I believe that human security hold out great promise for China in seeking to find solutions in Tibet.