Conflict prevention in the 21st century

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Existing China-UK cooperation in conflict management and prevention

China-UK cooperation on peace and security issues, and conflict prevention in particular, is currently very limited, although both countries have committed to working collaboratively. In 2004, China and the UK first established a 'comprehensive strategic partnership' to "help create a safer, more prosperous and open world". Within this, the two countries committed to increasing cooperation on countering terrorism and more generally within the framework of the UN. China also requested an increase in consultation with the UK on the Middle East and Iraq.

In 2009, the UK set out its evolving policy towards China in the paper 'The UK and China: A Framework for Engagement'. This recognized the impact that China's economicgrowth could have on the UK's national interests and global agenda (including, for example, international development and conflict management). It suggested that the UK would help to foster China's emergence as a responsible global player, and prioritized building a comprehensive relationship with China within UK foreign policy.

While this signals that the impetus for improved relations has been from the UK, the relationship is reciprocated, at least to a degree, by China. This can be seen at the leadership level within the ongoing China-UK strategic dialogue initiated in 2010. The dialogues aim to increase high-level exchanges, strategic communication and cooperation between China and the UK on foreign policy and security issues. Discussions within these meetings have previously focused on African development, peacekeeping and military reforms, and the security situations in Syria, Iran and South Sudan.

The UK-China Global Development Partnership Programme is an attempt to build on the high-level exchanges and identify practical approaches for the two countries to work together to achieve their shared international development objectives. A framework for this cooperation was provided by a 2011 'Memorandum of understanding for a partnership to enhance development cooperation and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals'. The agreement committed the two countries to work together on global development issues and poverty reduction in a range of sectors, including conflict prevention.

These commitments have since been reiterated in a number of joint statements. For example, in June 2014 the two sides agreed to "work actively to promote the peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear issues, the North Korean nuclear issue, Ukraine, Syria, Middle East, Afghanistan and other hot-spot issues" and to "strengthen coordination and cooperation on UN peacekeeping missions". However, it is perhaps only recently that the bilateral relationship has developed momentum, with a notable push from the UK in October 2015, in which it strived to become China's "best partner in the West". While the basis of this growing relationship is largely economic, the two sides have expressed in joint statements that they will continue to strengthen cooperation in conflict management through multilateral forums such as the UN, and have committed to a renewed development partnership which will in part contribute to 'upstream conflict prevention' efforts to address the root causes of conflict. This new partnership aims to bring China and the UK closer together in supporting the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), tackling global poverty, promoting economic development in Africa, supporting global health initiatives, international disaster relief, and providing opportunities for women and girls. Although it is welcome that this builds on pre-existing commitments, it is still too early to determine whether the renewed partnership will go beyond rhetoric and yield more tangible results.

Beyond the statements, and from a practical perspective, there is little evidence of existing China-UK cooperation in conflict prevention. However, there has been some, albeit limited, cooperation in peacekeeping, which demonstrates that there is some level of interest and capacity for tangible cooperation in the wider field of peace and security. The UK has provided technical assistance to the China Peacekeeping CivPol Training Center (CPCTC) in Langfang, south of Beijing, which was established by China's Ministry of Public Security (MPS) in 2000. Similarly, they have offered training to support China's participation in the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), and have worked trilaterally with the CPCTC and Ghana's Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre to provide training to police. China and the UK have also worked together in joint counter-piracy operations, including through the Shared Awareness and Deconfliction (SHADE) initiative to coordinate counter-piracy activities in the Gulf of Aden.

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