China wrapped up the country’s first multinational peacekeeping exercise on Wednesday, demonstrating the extent of its military might on a huge training ground ringed by mountains.
Troops from Pakistan, Thailand and Mongolia joined China’s armed forces for the 10-day exercise dubbed "Shared Destiny 2021" at the military base in Queshan county in central Henan province.
China’s defence spending is the second-largest in the world after the US, and tensions have dramatically increased between rival powers as Beijing has poured trillions of yuan into the modernisation of its military.
But the country has repeatedly sought to allay fears over its military intentions, projecting itself as a peaceful counterpoint to what it calls the "bullying, hegemonic behaviour" of Washington.
Senior Colonel Lu Jianxin told journalists invited to the base that the exercise "demonstrates China’s support for the multilateral system centred on the UN" as Beijing sought to put its defence diplomacy on full display.
Blue-helmeted soldiers took turns role-playing various scenarios: civilians and refugees caught up in a brawl, or armed militants attacking UN forces.
Dozens of armoured vehicles, bulldozers, helicopters and tanks – all bearing the UN logo – were mobilised for the event.
As of the end of July, China was the eighth-largest contributor to peacekeeping troops, with 2,158 military personnel engaged around the world, according to UN data.
Chinese forces are mainly engaged in South Sudan, Mali, Lebanon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
During her trip to Asia last month, US Vice President Kamala Harris described China’s disputes with its neighbours over the South China Sea as undermining "the rules-based order and threaten[ing] the sovereignty of nations".
As the second largest financial contributor, China footed 15% of the total expenses for UN peacekeeping operations in 2020.
Since 1990, it has sent 50,000 troops to participate in 25 peacekeeping missions globally, built or fixed 17,000km of roads and more than 300 bridges, and removed 18,000 mined, expert Lu said.