China’s Public Security Ministry is set to dispatch a 130-man “special police” unit to Haiti this month in the first deployment of Chinese forces to the Western Hemisphere, Bush administration officials say.
The first advance unit of the police troops, who are specially trained for riot and crowd control, will over the next two weeks join the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, the multinational force known as Minustah dispatched to the war-torn Caribbean island.
The main body of the force will arrive a short time later and will deploy to the port of Gonaives, say officials who insist on anonymity.
Administration officials are concerned that the Chinese government will use the troop deployment as a way to put political pressure on the Haitian government, one of the few nations retaining diplomatic relations with China’s rival Taiwan.
“It’s been a big year for China,” says one official opposed to the deployment. “They put a man in space, won gold medals at the Olympics, and now they are going to put troops in the Western Hemisphere for the first time.”
The official says China’s first military presence near U.S. shores would boost Beijing’s long-term strategy to “supplant U.S. influence” in the region. “China is pursuing a maritime strategy in the Caribbean to gain access and control over port facilities, free trade zone infrastructure, fisheries, oil and minerals, and off-shore banking platforms,”
For example, a Chinese company whose leader is close to Beijing’s communist rulers operates major port facilities at both ends of the Panama Canal.
“They will assert political influence [through Chinese companies],” the official says. “That is where this is headed.”
Administration officials say the decision to permit the Chinese to join the U.N. force in Haiti was made quietly, without a full debate among defense, foreign policy and national security agencies.
“This was done by the people in charge of peacekeeping,” one official says.
China has sent small numbers of observers to previous U.N. peacekeeping missions but has declined earlier requests to send active units.
According to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency, the Chinese security forces, known as the People’s Armed Police, have spent three months in special training and passed exams administered by the United Nations.
Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang, head of the Communist Party’s political police and security organ, says the dispatch of the troops is an important diplomatic move and reflects China’s “devotion to world peace and stability”.
Chinese Embassy spokesman Sun Weide says 125 riot policemen will arrive in Haiti in early September and will stay for six months. The unit will be drawn from police troops in Beijing, Shanghai and two other cities.
A State Department official says he has “mixed feelings” about the Chinese deployment in Haiti.
“They don’t have benign intentions when they deal with countries that have formal relations with Taiwan,” the official says. “On the other hand, the administration has been trying to organize support for the peacekeeping operation in Haiti.”
“We would really prefer to have someone other than the Chinese there, but [peacekeeping] is something we need others to contribute to. It’s a difficult challenge, and there are conflicting views on what to do about this.”
China has covertly dispatched military trainers and intelligence personnel to Venezuela, whose leftist president, Hugo Chavez, recently defeated a recall referendum. Beijing recently obtained observer status in the Organization of American States and will sponsor a China-Caribbean Economic and Trade Cooperation Forum later this year.
China has shipped military goods to Cuba and is working with Cuba’s communist government on intelligence and military issues, the officials say.
A classified study by the U.S. Southern Command in the 1990s stated that China is working to establish bases, primarily economic, at strategic choke points near the United States, said to officials familiar with the study.
Al Santoli, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, says the deployment of Chinese forces to Haiti sets a bad precedent. “This now gives them a legitimate mandate for having a martial presence in our hemisphere and sets a very dangerous precedent,” Mr. Santoli said. “This is something China could do more of as it develops economic relations with smaller countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.”