At the training camp for China’s first official standby peacekeeping police force in Dongying, northeast China, recruits are up at 6 a.m. They make their beds, run on a track dressed in their uniforms and UN peacekeepers, and eat simple canteen meals from mantou rolls, vegetables and meat. Such is the discipline of Chinese peacekeepers, according to a short documentary by China Global Television Network, the international English-language channel of China’s Central Public Television (CCTV).
It’s an image that Chinese officials seem keen to project, particularly in Africa where more than 2,400 Chinese troops are part of seven UN peacekeeping missions across the continent. (The video was posted on the network’s Africa page.)
In the video, the music rises as Chinese soldiers march through a field with assault rifles. (A peacekeeper is quick to note that he has never fired his weapon during a mission.) Other troops are shown executing roundhouse kicks, dives on parallel bars and lead training convoys. Another soldier says he is there to “fulfill his country’s duty to the rest of the world”.
Over the past 15 years, China has strengthened its role in peacekeeping missions. Of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, it is the largest contributor of peacekeepers and is among the 12 largest troop contributors in the world. Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged to increase China’s contribution to 8,000 from less than 3,000 currently deployed.
The depiction of a strong and capable Chinese peacekeeping force comes nearly a year after Chinese troops were accused of abandoning their refugee protection post in South Sudan. Two Chinese blue helmets died, a shock for a country unaccustomed to military entanglements abroad. Some observers have wondered if Beijing is aiming to become the head of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, a post held by the French for nearly two decades.
It also appeals to a growing sense of nationalism in China’s military power and influence around the world. Chinese media this week also published images of live ammunition firing exercises at China’s first overseas base in Djibouti, which opened last month. The highest-grossing Chinese film of all time, Wolf Warrior II, released last month, reflects some of that sentiment. In the film, a Chinese special ops soldier single-handedly rescues Chinese residents and expatriates in an unspecified African country beset by conflict.
A soldier in the CGTN documentary says, “All over the world, Chinese peacekeepers are highly respected, just like what you saw in Wolf Warrior II.