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Last Updated: Monday, 18 September 2006, 12:11 GMT 13:11 UK
China signals peaceful ambitions
By Dan Griffiths
BBC News, Beijing

Chinese peacekeepers in Lebanon - 30/7/06
Chinese troops in blue helmets are an increasingly common sight
China's announcement that it will increase its peacekeeping force in Lebanon to 1,000 troops will help boost Beijing's profile in the Middle East.

The extra peacekeepers will join some 180 Chinese soldiers already on the ground carrying out mine clearing operations.

China wants to develop better ties with oil rich countries in the region as it hunts for new supplies of energy to fuel its booming economy.

It has already signed energy deals with

countries like Saudi Arabia and gets a huge chunk of its natural gas supplies from Iran.

Of course Lebanon does not fall into the category - it does not have huge reserves of natural resources.

But these additional peacekeepers will send a positive signal to the rest of the Middle East. And it will show that China wants to be taken seriously in the region.

1989: Takes part in first UN mission, to Namibia
2000: Sends 15 peacekeepers to East Timor
2003: Sends 550 troops to Liberia, and 175 to DR Congo
2004: Sends one policeman to Afghanistan
Sep 2006: Announces a 180-strong mission to Lebanon to be lifted to 1,000 troops

But there is more to this than better relations with the Middle East

Over the past two decades China has gradually expanded its role in international peacekeeping operations.

Since it began contributing to UN peacekeeping missions in the early 1990s, China has sent troops all over the world, to countries as far apart as Haiti, Afghanistan, Cambodia and Bosnia.

Beijing is already an emerging economic superpower. Participation in multinational peacekeeping operations is a sign that it wants to play an increasingly important role in diplomatic affairs as well.

Road most travelled

China is also aware that its growing power is viewed with suspicion in the US and parts of Asia.

So it wants to send a message to the rest of the world that its rise is not a threat to other countries.

Working with UN peacekeeping missions is a sign that China is a responsible power that wants to play its part in maintaining international stability through peaceful means.

China is also an increasingly important player in the international system. For decades after the Communists came to power in 1949, China remained closed to the world.

That slowly changed as economic reforms took hold after the death of Chairman Mao in 1976.

As China's economic and political clout has increased, the country's politicians have become international globetrotters.

President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao are the country's most travelled leaders, criss-crossing the globe as China's presence in international affairs has grown.

And that trend is likely to continue as globalisation has made China an integral part of the world economy.

China's leaders will also remember a time in imperial history when successive emperors in the Qing dynasty in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries tried to ignore the rest of the world.

They paid a heavy price. China's inability to come to terms with changes in the outside world was a major factor in the final downfall of the imperial system in the early twentieth century.

China's current leaders are not likely to make the same mistake.


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