Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Build on security initiatives

By Miwa Hirono (China Daily European Weekly) Updated: 2011-05-20 10:34

Concrete cooperation

The key is to devise substantial, practical and feasible cooperation programs that all parties can agree to, rather than let broad political issues overshadow practical relationships between China, Europe and relevant states in the Middle East and Africa.

Military cooperation between China and some European states is already promising. China and the UK have cooperated on peacekeeping training programs. In 2003, when China sent two contingents to a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UK provided assistance to the PLA by suggesting a roadmap of how to conduct pre-deployment training. From 2007 to 2009, the UK provided a "Peacekeeping English Project" to China's Peacekeeping Training Center.

In a recent joint study I conducted with Captain Xu Manshu from the National Defense University in China, to be published soon, a number of potential areas for further cooperation between UK military forces and the PLA are discussed.

One area is in assisting China to better understand rules of engagement in complex and dangerous peacekeeping environments. Currently, China contributes "force enablers", such as engineering, transportation and medical companies. The international community, including the UK, has encouraged China to take a step further and contribute infantry forces - often called combat forces - to UN peacekeeping. China has expressed an interest in doing so.

There is an urgent need for China to determine whether providing combat forces inevitably conflicts with the principle of the minimum use of force in peacekeeping. This is a fundamental principle that is strictly upheld by China. However, UN peacekeeping operations are now conducted in very dangerous environments, in which peace agreements are extremely fragile and often violated.

When should UN peacekeepers strike pre-emptively, for example, in the face of imminent threats to civilian lives? To encourage a greater contribution by China, basing training programs around this question is crucial.

Cooperation programs should not merely aim to encourage the development of China's peacekeeping practices. China has a track record encompassing more than 20 years in UN peacekeeping; it now has a wealth of experience to share with other countries.

Weight to African voices

In particular, cooperation in peacekeeping should give added weight to African voices, as a report by NGO Saferworld advocated in January. One idea that emerged from the meetings the PLA officer and I had with UK, Chinese and African government personnel and military officers is the need to hold a trilateral "training of trainers" program, in which African peacekeepers could be taught to be trainers in their home countries; and Chinese and UK military personnel could learn about African perspectives on peacekeeping. Building peacekeeping capacity in Africa is essential for the future of an international peacekeeping system.

In anti-piracy operations, China and the EU have already cooperated extensively. China is an active partner in the military coordination mechanism Shared Awareness and Deconfliction, co-chaired by the EU and Combined Maritime Forces. Practical coordination is vital to making the best use of limited naval resources. For example, sharing medical facilities and equipment, and coordinating security escort schedules multilaterally, could lead to a more efficient use of resources.

Beyond peacekeeping and anti-piracy operations, in which some level of cooperation is already in place, increasing cooperation in new areas is also important. One of them is non-combatant evacuation operations. Again, witness Libya. Non-combatant evacuation operations are ever more important for both Chinese and Europeans who work in conflict-prone regions.

Multilateral defense cooperation on non-combatant evacuation operations exists in the Asia-Pacific. This is called "Cobra-Gold", a product of US-Thai bilateral cooperation. It offers multilateral joint military exercise opportunities, with China as an observer. Although the political contexts are different, this could provide the basis for collaboration between China and Europe in establishing a multilateral defense cooperation mechanism focusing on the Middle East and Africa.

These are just a handful of examples of practical cooperation that can reach beyond differences in political principles. A top-down approach - agreement in principle followed by practical cooperation - will never resolve the enormous security challenges we are faced with today. What we need is a bottom-up approach - creative cooperation mechanisms that may narrow the political divide in the long run.

The author is a research fellow at the China Policy Institute and RCUK research fellow at the School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham.

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