China sends combat troops to South Sudan

An advance unit of a 700-strong Chinese infantry battalion arrived in South Sudan last week, marking the first People's Liberation Army infantry force  to participate in a United Nations peacekeeping mission. Commander Wang Zhen said the battalion will be equipped with drones, armored vehicles, anti-tank missiles and mortars, among other weapons "completely for self-defense purpose." The force is to be fully deployed by April. Speaking during talks across the border in Sudan's capital Khartoum, Beijing's Foreign Minister Wang Yi assured: "China's mediation of South Sudan issues is completely the responsibility and duty of a responsible power, and not because of China's own interests."

But the deployment comes just as state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) signed a deal with South Sudan to help increase oil production. China has invested billions of dollars in South Sudan, particularly in the oil sector. In 2011, 5% of China's oil imports came from the united Sudan, which broke up with South Sudan's secession that year. Chinese companies own a 40% stake of a joint partnership to explore South Sudan's oil resources, and had a similar 40% share in Sudan's pre-breakup state oil company.

As the largest contributor of peacekeepers among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, China has 2,027 troops deployed around the world under UN command, out of a total of 27,000 military personnel stationed around the globe. But the South Sudan deployment marks the first time China is sending an entire infantry battalion for international peacekeeping; Beijing's peacekeeping forces have previously been engineering, transportation, medical and guard units. (Reuters, Business Insider, Jan. 16; CNTV, Jan. 15; Geeska Afrika Online, Jan. 14; The Guardian, Dec. 23; Xinhua, Dec. 22)