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China: Economic powerhouse, Peacemaker

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Picture: Vladimir Astapkovich, Genya Sailov, Gavriil Grigorov/AFP – On April 26, 2022, President Xi Jinping, centre, spoke on the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, at the invitation of the latter. They spoke of China-Ukraine relations and the Ukraine crisis. Xi also met with Vladimir Putin. In February, 2023, China released a 12-point peace plan on the Russia-Ukraine conflict which insisted on a ceasefire, peaceful negotiations, respect for territorial sovereignty. Beijing’s model uses mediation and negotiation instead of military, sanctions and other bullying tactics, to end conflicts, the writer says.

By David Monyae

The post Covid-19 Chinese foreign policy is clearly emerging. Beijing seems to be living up to its responsibility as a major power. In a world ridden with debilitating conflict, China is stepping up to the plate and slowly building up its reputation as a peace maker.

The Chinese President Xi Jinping provided a crucial framework for global peace when he proposed three critical concepts; Global Development Initiative (GDI), Global Security Initiative (GSI), and recently Global Civilisation Initiative (GCI). These concepts speak to the developing countries’ most pressing needs and priorities.

This article will turn specifically to GSI to show Beijing is ejecting a fresh model in an attempt to achieve peace and security in global hotspots in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. This model uses more mediation and negotiation instead of military, sanctions and other bullying tactics to nag and cajole adversaries to favour a peaceful path to conflicts.

Anchored on the values of sovereignty, territorial integrity, mutual benefit, and multilateralism, the GSI seeks to ensure sustainable peace in the world. It provides an alternative to the western-dominated global security framework which is no longer fit for purpose as seen by the rise in conflict. The GSI channels attention to both traditional and non-traditional issues such as climate change, cybersecurity, terrorism, and biosecurity.

Its major departure from the western security framework is in its insistence on multilateralism, peaceful resolution of conflicts and inclusiveness. Under the western global peace and security order, Africa and other regions in the global south have been excluded and marginalised. As such, through the GSI, China is introducing a new discourse on global security that will hopefully yield better outcomes for global peace and stability.

Picture: Reuters – China’s President Xi Jinping and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China. In March 2023, Xi brokered a peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

On the back of a solid framework, China seems to be confidently taking on some of the world’s major conflicts. For example, in March, China brokered a peace deal between the Middle East’s major powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia, whose disagreements had seen the two countries cutting off diplomatic relations in 2016.

However, the China-brokered peace deal saw the restoration of diplomatic relations that will help put the troubled region on a path to stability. The rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia is key to ending long running and deadly wars in Syria and Yemen where the two regional powers have been fighting on opposite sides.

Beijing has also not shied away from the world’s biggest conflict – the Russia-Ukraine war, which has been raging on for 16 months.

In February, China released a 12-point peace plan on the Russia-Ukraine conflict which insisted on the implementation of a ceasefire, peaceful negotiations, respect for territorial sovereignty and refrain from the imposition of unilateral sanctions among other things. While the US and its allies in Europe have fuelled the war by supplying Ukraine with an enormous amount of military aid while imposing sanctions on Russia, China has made concerted efforts to maintain its neutrality and thus position itself as a credible peace broker.

In May, President Xi Jinping deployed his peace envoy, Li Hui, to Ukraine and other European countries in a bid to build momentum for a peace deal. Moreover, many believe that China is better positioned to bring the conflict in Sudan to an end due to its significant economic influence in the country.

The mediation of the US and Saudi Arabia seems to have failed to make any breakthrough as the war between the Sudanese government forces and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has not subsided. Because of its long history of relations with Sudan, China would have more credibility as a peace broker than the West.

Beijing is also putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to global peace. With over 2,500 troops, China is one of the top ten countries contributing troops to the United Nations peacekeeping missions. This is a significant increase considering that in 2000 China had just 52 troops in the UN peacekeeping missions.

Picture: Reuters – Chinese peacekeepers in the UN Mission to South Sudan on parade in the capital, Juba. China’s personnel contribution is more than double that of its fellow UN Security Council permanent members combined. Further, China also contributes a significant 15 percent of the UN’s peacekeeping budget of US$6 billion, the writer says.

China’s personnel contribution is more than double that of its fellow UN Security Council permanent members combined. Further, China also contributes a significant 15 percent of the UN’s peacekeeping budget of US$6 billion. It is only second to the US which contributes 28 percent of the budget. This is an emphatic demonstration of China’s commitment to playing a greater role in maintaining a stable and peaceful world.

It is interesting to note that 85 percent of China’s troops in the UN peacekeeping forces are deployed in Africa. In the 15 conflict areas where China’s troops have been deployed on peacekeeping missions, seven of those have been in Africa. Hence, Africa is a direct beneficiary of China’s increased commitment to global peace.

Perhaps in a less direct but equally important way, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a Beijing-sponsored global infrastructure programme that seeks to boost global connectivity and trade through investing in infrastructure, has unleashed immense economic potential and improved development prospects in some of the world’s poorest regions.

The BRI is helping to eradicate poverty which is one of the root causes of conflict. China’s assertiveness and confidence in the global peace and security domain brings a critical alternative voice that will make global security architecture more democratic, representative, and legitimate. China comes as a voice of reason in sharp contrast to a war-mongering West.

David Monyae is an Associate Professor of International Relations and Political Science and Director of the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.