Armored vehicles with flags of the United Nations and China are seen during a multinational U.N. peacekeeping military exercise with troops of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Pakistan, Mongolia and Thailand, on the outskirts of Zhumadian, Henan province, China September 15, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
September 15, 2021
By Yew Lun Tian
QUESHAN, China (Reuters) – China’s armed forces concluded their first multinational peacekeeping exercise on Wednesday, showing off their combat prowess with drones and mine-clearing robots while seeking to project a more benign image.
As the Asian giant modernises and beefs up its military by pumping hundreds of billions of dollars annually into its defence budget, it has also strived to assure other countries that its military is a force for good, not a threat.
About 1,000 troops from China, Pakistan, Mongolia and Thailand participated in the 10-day exercise at a People’s Liberation Army training base in Queshan county in the central province of Henan, though most of the soldiers appeared to be Chinese.
The exercise, codenamed “Shared Destiny 2021”, underscored China’s position as a “staunch defender of world peace and international order”, Senior Colonel Lu Jianxin, a Chinese military expert on peacekeeping, told reporters at the base.
The soldiers, in front of a small group of journalists, enacted clashes between terrorists and peacekeepers in the strife-torn fictitious country of Carana.
The exercise was based on a 2016 incident in Mali when Chinese peacekeepers were attacked and one of them was killed.
The troops also reenacted a scene based on another 2016 incident in South Sudan, when peacekeepers had to protect civilians caught up in fighting between factions.
In another scenario, drones buzzed the battlefield to spot bombs, which when found were disposed of by robots. Drones also doubled up as loudspeakers and released multi-coloured leaflets to urge people to stop fighting.
The exercise was also a showcase for Chinese military hardware. The foreign troops trained with Chinese weapons and other equipment.
“The use of Chinese equipment by foreign troops can be touted as a sign of enhanced military interoperability … and also for the purpose of marketing them to foreign militaries,” said Collin Koh, a defence research fellow with Singapore’s Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
China has repeatedly sought to dispel worries in neighbouring countries and further afield about its military intentions, even as it drills regularly near Chinese-claimed Taiwan and in the disputed South China Sea.
China takes prides in being the largest contributor of peacekeeping troops among major powers as represented by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
As the second largest financial contributor, China footed 15% of the total expenses for U.N. peacekeeping operations in 2020.
Since 1990, it has sent 50,000 troops to participate in 25 peacekeeping missions globally, built or fixed 17,000 km (10,600 miles) of roads and more than 300 bridges, and removed 18,000 mined, said expert Lu.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Ben Blanchard, Robert Birsel)