Chinese Peacekeepers to Haiti: Much Attention, More Confusion

The government of China’s decision to dispatch civilian riot police to Haiti has received considerable attention in the Chinese domestic press as well as in the foreign media. Despite the large amount of information readily available both in English and Chinese, including many photographs that clearly show the force in its distinctive uniforms with insignia, this deployment has been widely misreported by several members of the foreign press.[1] Moreover, China’s overall contribution to UN peacekeeping operations (PKO) has also been misrepresented by some of the articles written about the Haiti mission. The actual facts may be surprising.

There has been much confusion about the lineage of the riot police force sent to Haiti. Part of this confusion is the likely result of a lack of understanding of the relationship among China’s armed forces and its civilian security forces by some foreigners (and Chinese). According to the National Defense Law, the Chinese armed forces consist of the active and reserve units of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the People’s Armed Police (PAP), and the militia.[2] By this definition, the paramilitary PAP and militia are not part of the PLA, which is composed of the army, navy, air force, and Second Artillery. The civilian police forces also are not part of the PLA nor are they part of the Chinese armed forces.

Civilian security forces include the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) police force responsible for crime fighting and law enforcement and the Ministry of State Security, which is responsible domestically for counterespionage tasks and ‘maintaining social and political stability.’[3] The MPS runs a system of civilian police forces that amounts to about 1.7 million personnel nationwide.[4] These civilian officers include traffic cops, street patrols, fire fighters, detectives, and riot police. Local police forces are controlled by Public Security Bureaus (PSB) and these officers have the power to arrest and detain people. MPS and PSB officers wear different uniforms, have a different rank structure, and are trained in different schools than the PLA, PAP, and militia. For over a decade, the MPS has been building its anti-riot capability; in 2001 the ministry ordered key cities throughout the country to establish anti-riot squads of ‘no less than 300 members for municipalities or two hundred for capitals of provinces.’[5] Some of these units are equipped with armoured personnel carriers and other anti-riot gear. Like other police cars and vans, these anti-riot vehicles are clearly marked identifying them as MPS vehicles.

The civilian MPS police force often works in conjunction with the People’s Armed Police. By law, the PAP is under the dual command of the State Council (the MPS in particular) and the Central Military Commission (CMC). The PAP’s primary mission is domestic security (including both crime fighting, riot control, and anti-terrorism), but it also has a secondary role in local defence from external enemies. PAP forces wear uniforms and ranks that are distinct from the MPS police force as well as differing from the PLA. Estimates of the size of the PAP vary, but its total force may number up to 1.5 million. The majority of PAP forces are dedicated to internal security, but additionally the force has border security, fire fighting, and construction units as well as elements assigned to guard forests, gold mines, and hydropower facilities. Each province, autonomous region, and centrally-administered city has at least one internal security PAP zongdui, generally considered a division-size unit with smaller organizations stationed in cities and counties.[6] During the 500,000-man reduction from 1997-2000, fourteen PLA divisions were converted to PAP zongdui and now augment other PAP internal security forces throughout the country. The PAP has specially trained anti-riot and anti-terrorist units, along with some armoured vehicles. PAP vehicles are marked so that they can be distinguished from MPS police and PLA vehicles.

According to the National Defence Law, the PLA is primarily responsible for external defence but it can assist in domestic security operations in accordance with the law. Likewise, the mission of the militia is to ‘perform combat-readiness duties, carry out defensive fighting tasks, and assist in maintaining the public order.’[7] The CMC is the ultimate command authority for the PLA and the militia, though local governments also have a say in the use of militia forces. The active duty PLA is in the midst of another reduction of 200,000 personnel and is expected to number a little over two million uniformed personnel in 2005.[8] Reserve units and personnel for the army, navy, air force, and Second Artillery add another half million or more to the total PLA force structure. The number of militia personnel has not been announced recently, but likely amounts to several million part-time soldiers ranging in age from 18 to 35 with varying degrees of training and readiness. Like the PLA active duty and reserve forces, the militia has been undergoing restructuring and downsizing since the end of the 1990s. When authorized by government officials, both PLA and militia personnel may assist the MPS police and PAP in domestic security operations, but the PLA today is considered the third line of defence for Chinese internal security after the MPS and PAP forces.

The forces and missions outlined above are important to understand exactly who was deployed to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).While some foreign reports mistakenly reported the Haiti force to be PAP personnel, in fact, the photographs of the force, which revealed their blue uniforms, rank insignia, and unit patches, clearly indicate these anti-riot police were from the civilian MPS system. Additionally, the leadership of the Ministry of Public Security took the lead in showing off the force.(Had this force been PAP or military, CMC or military leaders would have been involved in the ceremonies surrounding their departure, not MPS officials.) The 125 personnel who make up the Haiti force are composed of policemen and women from the four centrally-administered cities of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing who received special training before their deployment.[9] The deployment of riot police to Haiti adds to the Chinese civilian police presence already in that county (one officer had been deployed) and doubles the amount of Chinese civilian police presently deployed to UN missions in Liberia, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and East Timor (about 60 personnel total).[10] Previously, Chinese civilian police had been deployed to Bosnia, too.

Compared to the coverage of the mission to Haiti, Chinese contributions to UN PKO missions have gone widely unnoticed by the foreign press. In fact, China is contributing more soldiers and civilian police to UN peacekeeping missions than any other Permanent Member of the UN Security Council. According to UN statistics as of 31 August 2004, which did not include the civilian riot police dispatched to Haiti after the statistics were compiled, China has deployed 906 personnel in twelve UN missions, followed by France with 563 personnel in ten missions, the United Kingdom with 563 personnel in six missions, the United States with 430 personnel in seven missions, and Russia with 340 personnel in eleven missions.[11] In overall ranking, China is a mid-level contributor (at about number seventeen), with Pakistan and Bangladesh leading (each with over 8,000 personnel deployed to UN missions), followed by Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, and India (each with approximately 3,000 personnel deployed).[12] China’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations is not new. While no PLA combat units have been sent on PKO missions, military observers, engineers, and logistics support units have been deployed with consistency for over a decade. Four Chinese peacekeepers have died on these operations.[13]

The PLA’s participation in UN PKO missions began in the early 1990s with military observers going to the Middle East and the Iraq-Kuwait border, as well as PLA engineers operating as part of UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) from 1991-1993. PLA personnel currently are participating in the following eight UN missions:[14]


1. United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (1991) (MINURSO)

19 Military Observers


2. United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1999) (MONOC)

10 Military Observers

220 Troops


3. United Nations Operation in Burundi (2004) (ONUB)

3 Military Observers


4. United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (1999) (UNAMSIL, also previously in UNOMSIL from 1998)

6 Military Observers


5. United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (2000) (UNMEE)

7 Military Observers


6. United Nations Mission in Liberia (2003) (UNMIL, also previously in UNOMIL from 1993-1997)

5 Military Observers

566 Troops

25 Civilian Police


7. United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (2004) (UNOCI)

3 Military Observers


8. UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO, Israel, Syria, Lebanon border from 1948, Chinese participation started in 1990)

5 Military Observers


In addition to the missions mentioned above, China sent personnel to Mozambique (ONUMOZ) from 1993-1994. Like other UN peacekeepers, PLA PKO forces wear the distinctive blue beret or blue helmets. The Chinese domestic media (People’s Daily, Xinhua, etc) regularly publicize China’s contributions to UN missions. Additionally, the English-language PLA Daily online has a ‘Special Reports’ section called ‘Chinese Peacekeepers in Action’ with many articles and photographs found at and the Chinese-language PLA Daily has its own section at

According to the 2002 Chinese Defence White Paper, the PLA is prepared to send a UN standard engineering battalion, a UN standard medical team, and two UN standard transportation companies to participate in PKO missions.[15] It has designated an engineer brigade in the Beijing Military Region as its primary PKO force. This unit, which sent forces to Cambodia more than ten years ago, commanded by Senior Colonel Qin Bokai, is stationed in Nankou northwest of Beijing and has been visited by the foreign attaché corps assigned to China.[16] The PLA force now in the Congo is composed of an engineer company with about 175 personnel and a medical platoon of roughly forty people.[17] PLA units assigned to the Congo rotate on an eight-month schedule and the force has already dispatched its second contingent of troops to relieve the first units deployed.[18] The PLA mission to Liberia is composed of an engineer company from the Shenyang Military Region, a medical team from the Nanjing Military Region, and a transportation team from the General Logistics Department, making it the largest Chinese PKO to date with over 550 personnel.[19] The engineer unit currently deployed to Liberia is a reserve water supply company that received three months of special training before departing in February 2004.[20] The integration of a reserve unit into a PLA PKO force demonstrates a closer working relationship between the active and reserve force than might have been expected only a few years ago.

While there is a large degree of propaganda mixed into the Chinese reporting about its participation in UN PKO missions, these actions also reflect a nation making positive contributions to what are generally considered worthwhile international humanitarian efforts. Others can speculate as to China’s motivations for taking part in UN PKO missions, but before making assessments it is useful to understand the composition of the Chinese security apparatus and have the facts on Chinese participation available for public scrutiny. The UN webpage for Peacekeeping Operations (, which is updated monthly, is a useful place to start research or to fact-check questions about the various PKO missions throughout the world.


Dennis J. Blasko

The author served as US Army attaché in Beijing and Hong Kong from 1992-1996 and is currently adjunct professor at the University of North Florida and a consultant




1 Imprecise or inaccurate reporting about this deployment has been made by The Washington Times(Bill Gertz,’ China Will Send Troops To Haiti, U.S. expects political pressure,’ September 6, 2004), AP (George Gedda, ‘Chinese Police Expected to Join U.N. Force in Haiti,’ September 27, 2004), and The Washington Post (Edward Cody, ‘China Readies Riot Force For Peacekeeping in Haiti,’ September 30, 2004) and then picked up and repeated by other sources, including the Chinesemedia.


2 ‘Law of the People’s Republic of China on National Defense, adopted at the fifth Session of the Eighth National People’s Congress [[NPC]] on 14 March 1997,’ Beijing XinhuaDomestic Service, in Foreign Broadcast Information Service-CHI-97- 055.


3 Official responsibilities for these government organs can be found at


4 ‘Hu Jintao praises police, urges them to improve performance,’ People’s Dailyonline October 17, 2004.


5 ‘China to Enhance Anti-Riot Police Force’ People’s Dailyonline, January 27, 2001.


6 PAP units are notstationed in the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macao.


7 ‘Law of the People’s Republic of China on National Defense, adopted at the fifth Session of the Eighth National People’s Congress [[NPC]] on 14 March 1997.’


8 An unknown number of uniformed civilians are also counted on active duty rosters of the PLA.


9 According to ‘Chinese peacekeepers prepare for Haiti mission,’ China Dailyonline June 7, 2004, these peacekeepers trained at a PAP academy south of Beijing in Langfang.However, the uniforms, rank structure, and insignia worn by the force clearly show the subordination to the MPS and not the PAP.See also ‘China to send anti-riot peacekeepers for Haiti,’ People’s Daily online, June 5, 2004; ‘Elite Police Prepare for Haiti Tour,’ Shanghai DailySeptember 4, 2004,; ‘Chinese peacekeeping force leaving for Haiti,’ People’s Daily online, September 18, 2004.The Chinese-language media contained even more articles and photographs than the English-language press and continued to cover events as the force deployed to Haiti in two groups.


10 ‘UN Mission’s Summary detailed by Country,’ August 31, 2004, at


11 ‘UN Mission’s Summary detailed by Country,’ August 31, 2004.


12 ‘Ranking of Military and Civilian Police Contributions to UN Operations,’ August 31, 2004, at


13 ‘White Paper on China’s National Defense in 2002’ December 9, 2002, found at


14 ‘UN Mission’s Summary detailed by Country,’ August 31, 2004.


15 ‘White Paper on China’s National Defence in 2002.’


16 ‘Chinese Blue Berets Ready for UN Peace-keeping Mission,’ People’s Dailyonline, January 25, 2003 at


17 ‘Five capabilities of Chinese peacekeepers,’ PLA Dailyonline, undated, found at and ‘Chinese peacekeeping troops ready to set for the DRC,’ at


18 ‘Peacekeeping force to the D. R. Congo finishes 2nd shift,’ Xinhuanetonline, August 22, 2004


19 ‘UN awards peace medals to Chinese peacekeeping troops in Liberia,’ PLA Daily online, September 15, 2004.


20 ‘Reserve force servicemen go to Africa on peace-keeping mission,’ in PLA Dailyonline March 1, 2004.


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