Over the past decade, the expansion of multidimensional United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations—particularly in Africa, where most UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding activity is concentrated—has stressed the ability of the international community to mobilize the necessary resources for effective responses to conflict. Efforts to reform or reorient UN peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding efforts have suffered from a lack of coordination among member states and between member states and the UN system. This represents a particular challenge for China whose contributions to UN peace operations are growing faster than those of any other developing country. In addition to the rapid growth of its economic interests in Africa over the past decade, China has also dramatically increased the scope of its engagement in UN peace operations—becoming the largest contributor of peacekeepers of the UN Security Council’s five permanent members. This has pushed Chinese authorities to assume a greater role on issues of peace and security in the region through both bilateral and multilateral initiatives.
Yet, despite Chinese and African political actors’ growing need for evidence and research to inform policies on peace and security in this new context, scholarship has failed to keep pace with the rapid expansion of cooperation between China, African countries, and the United Nations. While the UN’s strong presence in Africa has contributed to the spread of peace and security studies on the continent, Chinese scholars of the subject are few and often lack opportunities to conduct field work in conflict-affected regions. Moreover, while both African and Chinese scholars regularly engage with Western scholarship on peace and development, they rarely have the chance to share their experiences and research directly with each other. As the UN seeks to restructure its peace operations in coming years to build stronger regional partnerships, scholars of the UN and peace and security studies in China and Africa will play a crucial role in ensuring both African and Chinese perspectives influence the direction of reform.
The China-Africa Knowledge Project’s Peace and Security stream of work explores this evolution of China's engagement with multilateral cooperation and the UN, strengthens UN studies in China, and builds platforms for Chinese, African, and Western scholars and practitioners to share policy and research ideas and experiences. In collaboration with external partners, such as the American Friends Service Committee, the Quaker UN Office, Beijing Foreign Studies University, and UNA-China, the work provides opportunities for collaborative research on multilateral peace and security mechanisms and further strengthens UN studies in China by developing new and constructive linkages between Chinese scholars and UN practitioners involved in addressing conflict. Activities and support take the form of UN scholars-in-residence, seminars, and workshops.
In March 2016, the China-Africa Knowledge Project, in collaboration with the African Peacebuilding Network at the Social Science Research Council, and the American friends Service Committee, piloted a new fellowship program, the “China-Africa Peace and Security Research Fellowship”. The fellowship provides junior Chinese scholars conducting research on China’s engagement with the UN in and relating to African peace and security issues the opportunity to conduct field research with fellowship institutional partners in Africa working on comparable issues for a minimum of 1 month and up to 3 months. The fellowship is designed to integrate Chinese scholars into important networks of peace and security scholars and experts in Africa, and establish links between their home institutions and African counterparts. Conversely, African institutions and individual scholars will have the opportunity to expand their networks among Chinese research communities. The fellowship program aims to strengthen the evidentiary basis for Chinese scholarship on the UN and in peace and security studies, foster greater South-South dialogue, promote knowledge exchange between African and Chinese scholars, and integrate African and Chinese perspectives into key policy debates within the UN and African Union.