- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 8, 2004

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Concerns over the United Nations’ deployment of Chinese peacekeepers in Haiti, once seen as an effort to undermine Taiwan’s diplomatic presence, have given way to speculation that Beijing is more interested in building a long-term presence in the United States’ back yard.

About 125 Chinese police continue to work with the U.N. mission in Haiti three months after Beijing’s first deployment of armed forces in the Western Hemisphere.

No one dismisses Beijing’s anger over Haiti’s diplomatic recognition of Taiwan as insignificant.

Hsieh Hsin-ping, Taiwan’s ambassador in Port-au-Prince, voiced suspicion of darker motives at work.

“[China] says it wants to play a major role in the world with more responsibility, but there is always something behind that,” Mr. Hsieh said.

“[The Chinese] will exploit every opportunity to destroy relations between Taiwan and its diplomatic allies,” he said.

But Mr. Hsieh acknowledged that “there is no indication” the Chinese peacekeepers are in Haiti to press the government to break ties with Taiwan.

So what is China up to?

“I think it’s very clear that they have changed their diplomatic posture and strategy from one of aloofness and antagonism to being a positive player or an active player in the international system,” said Larry Wortzel, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Davis Institute for International Policy Studies.

Also factoring into the Chinese deployment, he said, is Beijing’s desire to expand economic ties throughout Latin America and, over time, to isolate Taiwan in a region where it has diplomatic ties with several other nations.

“You have a fairly carefully considered three-part strategy,” Mr. Wortzel said.

Elsewhere in the world, China also has beefed up its diplomatic presence. It is hosting six-party negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, and last week it signed a landmark free trade pact with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“What makes this [Haiti deployment] unprecedented is that the Chinese are asserting their role as a peacekeeping power within what we consider the American sphere of influence,” said Merle Goldman, an associate at Harvard University’s Fairbank Center for East Asian Research.

Last month, Chinese President Hu Jintao announced $30 billion in new investments in Latin America during a 12-day trip to Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Cuba.

“[The Chinese] are willing to step up to the plate a little bit more and understand that their economy has been growing so dramatically as they’re emerging as an economic power, as they do have aspirations of playing a larger role in the international stage, that along with all these rights come certain responsibilities,” said Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Chinese peacekeepers in Haiti speak like diplomats.

“We want to contribute to the world and participate in peace issues,” said Ping Li, 41, who participated in a more limited Chinese mission to East Timor and now is overseeing the mission in Haiti for China’s Ministry of Public Security.

Richard Bush, director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, said there are far better ways for China to undermine Taiwan’s influence than to send a limited number of peacekeepers.

“Economic aid, for example. As long as Taiwan continues to be a major donor to Haiti, they will maintain close relations,” said Mr. Bush, former director of the American Institute in Taiwan, the organization that oversees official U.S. ties with Taiwan.

• Heather J. Carlson in Washington contributed to this report.

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