A Collective Portrait of Chinese Peacekeepers



Blue Helmets in Action:

A Decade of Distinguished Chinese Police Service in UN Peacekeeping Missions

Author: Wei Hechu

198 pages, paperback

Price: RMB 48

Published by China

Pictorial Publishing House in May 2012

EVEN today Zhao Xiaoxun, chief of the first Chinese Peacekeeping Formed Police Unit (FPU), still remembers the eve of the 2004 Spring Festival, when the carnival reached its culmination in Haiti. At 10:30 pm, a phone call from local police headquarters asked Zhao to transfer all security personnel to the square in front of the Presidential Palace where the crowd was being attacked by illegal militias. Zhao was the head of the riot squad that arrived there 15 minutes later.

There was gunfire and the battle was fierce, but Zhao’s squad fought back and the gunfire soon ceased. The situation seemed to have calmed down. But the militias didn’t retreat. Instead, they took a rest under cover of night.

Suddenly a beam of light was cast on the squad from a house at back of the square. All FPU members were exposed under the light and the militias began to fire again, but the Chinese officers took shelter and held their ground. After a few minutes, militias had been repulsed, winning acclaim from locals in the square.

Most of the 2,000 Chinese peacekeepers in the UN mission areas around the world have experienced this kind of episode. Blue Helmet in Action tells you some of their stories, experienced over the past dozen years, through the words and lenses of the police officers themselves.

Since 1948, the UN peacekeeping operation has authorized more than 60 missions. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has been part of this. Its functions and influence on international affairs, regional conflicts and world peace and stability have become increasingly prominent. During the past 20 years, China has participated in 23 UN peacekeeping missions by providing a total of 15,000 personnel, including individual military observers, Formed Police Units, military troops and police officers.

Thus far, over 2,000 police officers are still participating in 10 UN peacekeeping missions. At a time when the UN encountered a critical fiscal crisis, China, a developing country, substantially increased its contributions. In 2010 it provided nearly four percent of the UN peacekeeping budget, totaling US $300 million.

As part of the “China’s World Responsibilities” series published by China Pictorial Publishing House, Blue Helmets in Action records the 10 years of Chinese involvement in UN peacekeeping operations. Over the decade, China has sent 1,689 police officers to join UN peacekeeping missions in East Timor, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Libya, Sudan and Haiti. Their work there has helped both facilitate peace and promote local economic development, making the world we live in a safer, more stable place.

They have made great contributions to restoring peace and stability in the host countries and protecting local lives and property. In mission areas, the peacekeepers often face complicated political situations, harsh living conditions and dangerous work as they battle crime, protect human rights and rebuild local law enforcement.

Blue Helmets in Action embodies frontline peacekeepers’ promises and endeavors toward peace, giving intimate pictures of individuals’ often heroic and touching experiences. Each anonymous individual officer on the ground is a face of China to local people and the international community, providing them with a window on this country. “World peace emissaries and the pride of China,” was Ban Ki-moon’s description of them.

Among those that China can be proud of is He Zhihong, a liaison officer of the eighth Peacekeeping FPU to Haiti, who held Chinese-learning classes in her barrack before being killed in the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010.

After the quake, He’s former students gathered before her photo in the room where she taught them Chinese every Sunday afternoon. “Respected Ms. He, we have just experienced great disturbance, and we have witnessed so many crimes,” said Joey, monitor of the study group, tearing up at her memory. “But while we were in the Chinese camp, from the bottom of our hearts we felt it was the happiest time. Thank you for teaching us. You give us hope for the future.”

He Zhihong was one of many devoting themselves to building new homes and a better life for local Haitians. Since joining the UN peacemakers, Chinese officers have done much to aid students, the poor and the distressed, and saved many whose lives were in peril. They organized voluntary labor activities to help local people rebuild their homes. They provided financial support for the reconstruction of police offices and to improve the working conditions of local police. Many developed a bond with local people, reinforcing friendship and establishing good relations. On returning to mission areas, many Chinese peacekeepers bring copies of Blue Helmets in Action to give to their old friends.

FANG YUNZHONG is deputy editor-in-chief of China Pictorial Publishing House, senior reporter and editor.