Interpreting China’s Rise in a Decentered World Through the Lens of Peacekeeping and Antipiracy Missions


The rise of China in international affairs has prompted a vibrant debate among scholars; however, there is no consensus over what kind of power China is. This article argues that China can be seen as the representative of a new breed of great powers emerging in a decentered world. It does so by looking at China’s participation in peacekeeping and antipiracy operations under the aegis of the United Nations. It is possible to see that since the early 1990s China’s strategy has shifted from primarily aiming at being acknowledged as a great power, to trying to exercise its growing international authority effectively to better serve its expanding interests. It did so by strengthening its involvement through the UN in international security affairs.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    More on the relationship between the use of force and international legitimacy can be found in Force and Legitimacy in World Politics edited by David Armstrong, Theo Farrell, and Bice Maiguaschca.

  2. 2.

    Elaboration of data from ITC Trade Map,

  3. 3.

    Data from the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics (2015, 612–614).

  4. 4.

    Art (Spring 1980) defined swaggering as "category the deployment of military power for purposes other than defense, deterrence or compellence. Force is not aimed directly at dissuading another state from attacking, at repelling attacks, nor at compelling it to do something specific. The objectives for swaggering are more diffuse ill-defined and problematic than that. Swaggering almost always involves only the peaceful use of force and is expressed usually in one of two ways: displaying one's military might at military exercises and national demonstrations and buying or building the era's most prestigious weapons. The swagger use of force is the most egoistic: it aims to enhance the national pride of a people or to satisfy the personal ambitions of its ruler. A state or statesman swaggers in order to look and feel more powerful and important, to be taken seriously by others in the councils of international decision-making to enhance the nation's image in the eyes of others".

  5. 5.

    The following data are all from the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics (various years).

  6. 6.

    Between 2012 and 2017 China became the second largest financial supporter. While in 2012 China financed 3.93% of the budget, the share today is 10.25%. In 2017, China also donated USD 100 million to the African Union (AU) to support its peacekeeping operations. This donation is the biggest so far after two USD 1.2 million donations in 2016 and 2015, the construction of the AU headquarters in 2012, and other smaller contributions.


  1. Amnesty International. 2007. Sudan Arms Continuing to Fuel Serious Human Rights Violations in Darfur. Accessed 5 Jan 2017.

  2. Art, Robert J. 1980. To What Ends Military Power? International Security 4 (4): 3–35. (Spring).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Arbatov, Alexey. 2014. Collapse of the World Order? Russia in Global Affairs. Accessed 8 Aug 2017.

  4. Beijing Youth Daily. 2009. Zhuanjia: beidou yi dai rengyou daliang quedian bu neng yongyu junshi [Expert: First Generation of Beidou Still Has Many Shortcomings, Cannot Be Used by the Military]. Accessed 5 Jan 2017.

  5. Bremmer, Ian. 2012. Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World. New York: Portfolio Penguin.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Brooks, Stephen G., and William C. Wohlforth. Winter 2015/2016. The Rise and Fall of Great Powers in the 21st Century. International Security 40(3):7–53.

  7. Bull, Hedley. 2002. The Anarchical Society. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Buzan, Barry, and George Lawson. 2015. The Global Transformation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  9. Buzan, Barry. 2010. China in International Society: Is “Peaceful Rise” Possible? Chinese Journal of International Politics 3 (1): 5–36.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Buzan, Barry. 2011. The Inaugural Kenneth N. Waltz Annual Lecture A World Order Without Superpowers: Decentered Globalism. International Relations 25 (1): 3–25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Chin, Josh. 2011. China’s Other Problem with Protests Abroad. Wall Street Journal. Accessed 6 Jan 2017.

  12. Clark, Ian. 2014. International Society and China: The Power of Norms and the Norms of Power. Chinese Journal of International Politics 7 (3): 315–340.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Cooper, Helene. 2007. April Darfur Collides With Olympics, and China Yields. The New York Times. Accessed 5 Jan 2017.

  14. Cui, Shunji, and Barry Buzan. 2016. Great Power Management in International Society. The Chinese Journal of International Politics 9 (2): 181–210.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Cui, Shunji, and Jia Li. 2011. (De)securitizing Frontier Security in China: Beyond the Positive and Negative Debate. Cooperation and Conflict 46 (2): 144–165.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Department of Trade and External Economic Relations Statistics, National Bureau of Statistics. 2015. Zhongguo maoyi waijing tongji nianjian [China Trade and External Economics Statistical Yearbook]. Beijing: Zhongguo tongji chubanshe.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Dong, Zhaohui. 2016. China’s Logistic Hub in Djibouti to Stabilize Region, Protect Interests. Global Times. Accessed 6 Jan 2017.

  18. Erickson, Andrew S., and M.Strange Austin. 2015. Six Years at Sea…and Counting. Washington, DC: Jamestown Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Erickson, Andrew S. 2010. Chinese Sea Power in Action: The Counter Piracy Mission in the Gulf of Aden and Beyond. In The PLA at Home and Abroad: Assessing the Operational Capabilities of China’s Military, ed. Roy D. Kamphausen, David Lai, and Andrew Scobell, 295–375. Carlisle Barracks: United States Army War College Press.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Fewsmith, Joseph. 2011. Reaction, Resurgence, and Succession: Chinese Politics since Tiananmen. In The Politics of China, ed. Roderick MacFarquhar, 468–527. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  21. Fravel, M.Taylor. 1996. China’s Attitude toward U.N. Peacekeeping Operations since 1989. Asian Survey 36 (11): 1102–1121.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Geeraerts, Gustaaf. 2011. China, the EU in the New Multipolarity. European Review 19 (1): 57–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Ghiselli, Andrea. 2016. China’s First Overseas Base in Djibouti, An Enabler of its Middle East Policy. China Brief 16(2). Accessed 6 Jan 2017.

  24. Ghiselli, Andrea. 2016b. Growing Overlap Between Counter-Terrorism and Overseas Interest Protection Acts As New Driver of Chinese Strategy. China Brief 16 (9): 15–18.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Gill, Bates. 2007. Rising Star. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Global Times. 2011. Zhongguo qiye zai libiya zichan da 188 yi meiyuan sunshi nan guliang [Chinese Companies Had Contracts Worthy USD 18,8 Billion in Libya It Is Difficult to Calculate the Losses]. Accessed 6 Jan 2017.

  27. Griffiths, James. 2016. Chinese Security Official Elected Interpol Chief. CNN. Accessed 6 Jan 2017.

  28. Grubb, Michael C. 2008. A Comprehensive Survey of China’s Dynamic Shipbuilding Industry. China Maritime Studies (1).—Gaming/China-Maritime-Studies-Institute/Publications/documents/CMS1_Collins-Grubb.aspx. Accessed 5 Jan 2017.

  29. Harris, Stuart. 1998. The PRC’s Quest for Great Power Status: A Long and Winding Road. IR Working Paper Australia National University. Accessed 3 Jan 2017.

  30. Hirono, Miwa. 2011. China’s Charm Offensive and Peacekeeping: The Lessons for Cambodia—What Now for Sudan? International Peacekeeping 18 (3): 328–343.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Holslag, Jonathan. 2007. China’s Diplomatic Victory in Darfur. BICCS Asia Paper 2 (4): 1–12.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Hong, Junjie. 2007. Wangluo yulun yu zhongguo de waijiao juece [Internet Public Opinion and Chinese Foreign Policymaking]. In Zhongguo waijiao juece [Chinese Foreign Policy Making], ed. Hao Yufan, and Su Lin, 118–137. Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Huang, Chin-Hao. 2011. Principles and Praxis of China’s Peacekeeping. International Peacekeeping 18 (3): 257–270.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Hurrell, Andrew. 2007. On Global Order. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  35. Jervis, Robert. 1989. The Logic of Images in International Relations. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Kim, Icksoo. 2002. Accession into the WTO: External Pressure for Internal Reforms in China. Journal of Contemporary China 11 (32): 433–458.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Klosko, George. 2005. Political Obligations. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  38. Koops, Joachim A. 2016. Germany and United Nations Peacekeeping: The Cautiously Evolving Contributor. International Peacekeeping 23 (5): 652–680.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Laintegne, Marc. 2011. A Change in Perspective: China’s Engagement in East Timor UN Peacekeeping Operations. International Peacekeeping 18 (3): 313–327.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Lake, David A. 2011. Hierarchy in International Relations. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Lin-Greenberg, Erik. 2010. Dragon Boats: Assessing China’s Anti-piracy Operations in the Gulf of Aden. Defense and Security Analysis 26 (2): 213–230.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Luttwak, Edward N. 2012. The Rise of China vs The Logic of Strategy. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  43. Lynch, Colum. 2016. China Eyes Ending Western Grip on Top U.N. Jobs with Greater Control over the Blue Helmets. Foreign Policy. Accessed 6 Jan 2017.

  44. Ma, Xia, and Song Caicen. 2016. Zhongguo aiji suyishi jingmao hezuoqu: ‘yi dai yi lu’ shang de xinlvzhou [China-Egypt Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone: New Oasis on ‘The Belt and Road’]. Xiya Feizhou [West Asia and Africa] 2: 109–126.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Mastanduno, Michael, David A. Lake, and G. John Ikenberry. 1989. Toward a Realist Theory of State Action. International Studies Quarterly 33 (4): 457–474.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Mei, Xinyu. 2011. Mei xinyu: zhongguo zai libiya de sunshi mei name da [Chinese Losses in Libya Are Note So Big]. Global Times. Accessed 6 Jan 2017.

  47. Nye, Joseph. 2011. The Future of Power. New York: Public Affairs.

    Google Scholar 

  48. O’Rourke, Ronald. 2016. China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities. Congressional Research Service. Accessed 5 Jan 2017.

  49. Parello-Plesner, Jonas, and Mathieu Duchâtel. 2015. China’s Strong Arm. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  50. People’s Daily. 2008. Wangyou: zhichi zhongguo haijun huhang shuqi daguo xingxiang [Netizens: Support Chinese Naval Escorts Establishing the Image of a Great Power]. Accessed 6 Jan 2017.

  51. PRC State Council. 2016. China to complete registration of 8,000 standby troops for UN peacekeeping. Accessed 6 Jan 2017.

  52. Segal, Gerald. 1999. Does China Matter? Foreign Policy.

  53. Shambaugh, David, and Ren Xiao. 2012. China The Conflicted Rising Power. In Worldviews of Aspiring Powers, ed. Henry R. Nau, and Deepa M. Ollapally, 767–1465. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Shambaugh, David. 2013. China Goes Global. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Simpson, Gerry. 2004. Great Powers and Outlaws State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  56. 2008. Zhongguo haijun yuanzheng sumali jiemi: sushe baozui shihe da haidao [Uncovering Secrets of the Chinese Navy’s Long-distance Somalia Operations: Rapid-fire Assault Is the Most Suitable Way to Fight Pirates]. Accessed 6 Jan 2017.

  57. Storey, Ian. 2007. China and East Timor: Good, but not Best Friends. China Brief 6(14).

  58. Sun, Degang. 2014. Lun xin shiqi zhongguo zai zhongdong de rouxing junshi cunzai [About the New Era of Chinese Soft Military Presence in the Middle East]. Shijie jingji yu zhengzhi [World Economics and Politics] 8: 4–29.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Sun, Yanxin, and Zhu Hongliang. 2009. Zhongguo haijun shou pi huhang biandui kaichuang renmin haijun lishi duo ge ‘di yi’ [Naval Vessel Escort First Chinese Navy Escort Formation Achieves Multiple ‘Firsts’ in History of People’s Navy]. Xinhua. Accessed 5 Jan 2017.

  60. Suzuki, Shogo. 2008. Seeking ‘legitimate’ great power status in post-cold war international society: China’s and Japan’s participation in UNPKO. International Relations 22 (1): 45–63.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Suzuki, Shogo. 2011. Why Does China Participate in Intrusive Peacekeeping? Understanding Paternalistic Chinese Discourses on Development and Intervention. International Peacekeeping 18 (3): 271–285.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Tercovich, Giulia. 2016. Italy and UN peacekeeping: Constant Transformation. International Peacekeeping 23 (5): 681–701.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Tong, Xinxin. 2017. Opinion: Peacekeeping—How Do Others Compare to China? CGTN. Accessed 8 Aug 2017.

  64. UN Meeting Coverage. 2015. Security Council ‘Unequivocally’ Condemns ISIL Terrorist Attacks, Unanimously Adopting Text that Determines Extremist Group Poses ‘Unprecedented’ Threat. Accessed 6 Jan 2017.

  65. UNSC. 2013. Resolution 2011 (2013). Accessed 6 Jan 2017.

  66. van der Putten, Frans Paul. 2015. China’s Evolving Role in Peacekeeping and African Security. Clingendael Report. Accessed 6 Jan 2017.

  67. Wang, Yizhou. 2008. Zhongguo waijiao xin gaodi [High Land over China Foreign Affairs]. Beijing: China Social Science Press.

    Google Scholar 

  68. Wang, Yizhou. 2011. Chuangzaoxing jieru: zhongguo waijiao xin quxiang [Creative Involvement A New Direction in China’s Diplomacy]. Beijing: Peking University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Xing, Xinyu. 2016. Zhongguo canyu zhongdong diqu nanmin wenti zhili de xianzhuang yu qianjing [China’s Contribution to the Refugees Crisis in the Middle East: Retrospect and Prospect]. Alabo shijie yanjiu [Arab World Studies] 4: 20–32.

    Google Scholar 

  70. Xinhua. 2007. Hu Puts Forward Principle on Darfur Issue. Accessed 5 Jan 2017.

  71. Zerba, Shaio H. 2014. China’s Libya Evacuation Operation: A New Diplomatic Imperative-Overseas Citizen Protection. Journal of Contemporary China 23 (90): 1093–1112.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  72. Zhang, Qian. 2015. How Much Does PLA Soldier’s Individual Equipment Cost? People’s Daily. Accessed 6 Jan 2017.

  73. Zhang, Tao. 2015. China’s Peacekeeping Equipment Questioned. PRC MOD. Accessed 6 Jan 2017.

  74. Zhao, Keshi. 2013. Xin xingshi xia jiakuai wojun houqin xiandaihua de zhanlve sikao [Strategic Thoughts on Accelerating Modernization of PLA Logistics in the New Situation]. China Military Science 4: 1–10.

    Google Scholar 

  75. Zhi, Yuchen. 2016. Faguo duifei junshi zhengce yanbian dui zhongfafei heping anquan hezuo de qishi [Evolution of French Military Policy toward Africa and Its Implications for China-French-Africa Trilateral Peace and Security Cooperation]. Guoji Zhanwang [Global Review] 6: 73–92.

    Google Scholar 

  76. Zhou, Jinyan. 2016. Zhongying heping anquan hezuo de qianjing yu tiaozhan [China-U.K.-Africa Trilateral Peace and Security Cooperation: Prospects and Challenges]. Guoji Zhanwang [Global Review] 6: 93–109.

    Google Scholar 

  77. Zhu, Weidong. 2011. Zhongguo zai libiya sunshi you duo da [How Big Are Chinese Losses in Libya?]. Global Times. Accessed 6 Jan 2017.

  78. Zoellick, Robert B. 2005. Whither China: From Membership to Responsibility? U.S. Department of State Archive. Accessed 10 Nov 2017.

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Andrea Ghiselli.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ghiselli, A. Interpreting China’s Rise in a Decentered World Through the Lens of Peacekeeping and Antipiracy Missions. Chin. Polit. Sci. Rev. 3, 252–269 (2018).

Download citation


  • China
  • Great power
  • Non-traditional security
  • International society