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China takes up civic work in Africa

It's sending 1,809 UN peacekeepers and 300 volunteers in a new Chinese 'peace corps' program.

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She named her baby daughter Siwei Liu, which means "be aware of danger." The young Chinese mother had just passed the United Nations exams and knew she would soon be leaving China's Hubei Province for places unknown and dangerous.

Less than six months later, Fang Liu, a lawyer with the Chinese police forces, packed her suitcase, waved farewell to her husband and baby daughter – and set off for South Sudan. "It was," she says solemnly, "a very long way away."

Ms. Liu, today a UN police observer, was joined by 435 other ­engineers, medics, and transport specialists, ­all of them part of China's contribution to the 10,000-strong UN force charged with monitoring the peace agreement here until 2011.

The Sudan mission is the longest-ever peacekeeping mission the Chinese have joined to date – but not their only one.

Playing a far more active role in UN peacekeeping than ever before, 1,809 Chinese troops, police, military observers, and others are deployed worldwide. The majority – 1,273 – are here in Africa, building roads, setting up clinics, patrolling troubled villages – and generally trying to show that China wants to be considered part of the international community when it comes to doing the right thing by this continent.

The number of Chinese peacekeepers worldwide is much smaller than the number that Pakistan supplies the UN – currently 10,173 according to UN statistics – or India, which has sent 9,471 of its nationals to participate in most of the UN's 15 current missions worldwide.

But, it's more than South Africa (1,188 blue helmets) or Brazil (1,277) have in the field – and far more than the US, which, unlike 118 other countries, puts no boots on the ground. (The US does, however, provide the largest chunk of the funding for these missions – 26 percent of the total. China, in turn, provides 3 percent.)

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