≡ Menu Search



China’s growing economic power and status gives it opportunities – and responsibilities – to play a greater role in supporting peace.

Saferworld has been working on China since 2004. We work with Chinese policymakers, officials, think tanks, academics and commercial actors to understand and address the new challenges China faces in supporting stability abroad. We also work with officials and civil society in conflict-affected and fragile countries where China plays a major role; and we are working to inform Western policymakers and encourage their cooperation with China as they too adjust their strategies to the realities of a changing world order.

Our goal is that China positively contributes to international action to prevent violent conflict. We hope to better understand Chinese perspectives, while at the same time voicing our own, by conducting research, facilitating dialogue and raising awareness. Our work focuses on three main themes:

  • Conventional arms control. We work on issues such as combating small arms proliferation and strengthening dual-use and arms transfer controls. In particular we aim to help China develop more effective dual-use and arms trade control policies and practices and to encourage constructive engagement between China and key international initiatives such as the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and multilateral export control regimes such as the Wassenaar Arrangement – both of which China remains outside of. We promote more joined-up approaches, particularly in the area of preventing diversion of arms and dual-use goods and technologies, by bringing together policymakers, practitioners and academics from around the world for joint research and workshops.
  • Conflict prevention dialogue. Saferworld has been working with partners in China, the UK and conflict-affected states to increase awareness and expertise on different approaches to conflict prevention, focusing on three main themes: early warning mechanisms, crisis response, and the root drivers of fragility and conflict. Our recent report Conflict prevention in the 21st century: China and the UK details how China and the UK approach conflict prevention and examines the prospect for future cooperation to prevent violent conflict and build stability abroad. We are also beginning to look at building constructive China-US engagement on peace and security in Africa and other conflict regions.

This work has been supported by the Department for International Development, the European Union, the Economic and Social Research Council, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth OfficeHumanity United and the Open Society Foundations.

China is the second largest economy in the world, with a global diplomatic reach and a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. As its international trade, investment, and development assistance grow, China’s government, businesses, and citizens are increasingly operating in states experiencing high levels of violence or emerging from long periods of armed conflict.

China has the potential to play a valuable role in promoting peace and security. It has made some encouraging steps in this direction, such as increasing its contribution to UN peacekeeping missions, providing much-needed infrastructure in post-conflict states and playing a more active role to address tensions between Sudan and South Sudan and mediate South Sudan’s internal conflict.

Yet Beijing’s approach to conflict-affected countries has tended to focus on a state-oriented vision of stability, prioritising healthy diplomatic relations with host governments, often with an eye to deepening commercial ties, without any significant engagement with local civil society. This has meant that Beijing has at times stayed silent in the face of violent conflicts that are taking many lives, displacing communities and obstructing development. While China’s economic role abroad is often pointed to in China as a way of tackling underdevelopment and the root causes of conflict, there is little serious discussion of how this strength, along with other tools such as diplomacy or mediation, can be proactively leveraged to prevent conflicts from reaching a crisis stage.

Despite the important progress China has made over the past two decades in developing its arms export controls, there is no specific legal requirement in China to consider the impact of an arms transfer on international human rights or humanitarian law, or whether an arms transfer could fuel transnational organised crime, gender-based violence or violence against women and children. These humanitarian principles are at the heart of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which came into force on 24 December 2014 and which China decided not to sign.

It is becoming increasingly clear to the Chinese Government that insecurity overseas has an impact on its interests: putting commercial investments, energy security, and the lives of Chinese nationals at direct risk. It is also in conflict-affected states where the Asian giant’s image as a responsible power is being forged. These are new challenges for China as it faces a period of policy development, learning and adaptation.

Saferworld has recently worked on the following themes:

  • China’s role in Central Asia. As our 2015 report, Central Asia at a crossroads, and our 2013 report on China’s role and interests in Central Asia illustrate, the evolving relationship between China and Central Asia prompts a number of questions about the shifting balance of power in this region. A  Saferworld organised with the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies in October 2015 brought together experts to discuss the role of China in Central Asia and the opportunities for both China and local actors to support peace and stability in the region.

more features

Strengthening dual-use and arms trade controls

A project with Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation to explore how the implementation and enforcement of dual-use and arms trade controls can be strengthened and mutually reinforced.

Conflict prevention in the 21st century: China and the UK

Saferworld has brought together experts from China and the UK to promote dialogue on conflict prevention within and between the Chinese and British policy communities.

Promoting peace: engaging with China and South Sudan

We are working with key players in China to build their understanding of the concept of conflict sensitivity and help them put it into practice. Our 2013-14 Annual Review includes case studies from this work.



The Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University (IASZNU)

Shanghai Institutes for International Studies

The Charhar Institute

Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation (CAITEC)