A more powerful China under the seemingly confident leadership of President
Xi Jinping has committed to a more activist global policy. In particular, this
commitment has influenced Beijing’s policy towards UN peacekeeping operations,
with a long-awaited decision to add combat forces to the engineering
troops and police and medical units that have been features of its past contribution.
In addition, Beijing has doubled the size of its contribution to the UN peace
operations budget. This article explains why the UN is a key venue for China
to demonstrate its ‘responsible Great Power’ status and expressed willingness to
provide global public goods. The main explanatory factors relate to the UN’s institutional
design, which accords special status to China even as it represents a global
order that promotes the sovereign equality of states. Moreover, there are complementarities
between dominant Chinese beliefs and interests, and those contained
within the UN system. Especially important in this latter regard are the links that
China has tried to establish between peacebuilding and development assistance
with the aim of strengthening the capacity of states. China projects development
support as a contribution both to humanitarian need and to the harmonization of
conflict-ridden societies. The Chinese leadership has also spoken of its willingness
to contribute to peacemaking through stepping up its efforts at mediation.
However, such a move will require much deeper commitment than China has
demonstrated in the past and runs the risk of taking China into controversial areas
of policy it has hitherto worked to avoid.