China is sending hundreds of troops to join the U.N. peacekeeping force in war-torn South Sudan, where Chinese companies have major oil interests.
Comments from China's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday followed a report in the Wall Street Journal that said China was deploying troops to protect South Sudanese oil fields and the Chinese workers and installations around them.
Responding to reporters' questions, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying made no mention of oil or Chinese companies, saying China's "goal is to strictly follow the mandate of the U.N. Security Council and promote construction of the region."
Hua said China has already deployed 1,800 peacekeepers to South Sudan, while a spokesman for the U.N. mission in the country, Joe Contreras, said Beijing planned to send 700 soldiers, none of whom have arrived.
There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy.
The Wall Street Journal says China's National Petroleum Corporation holds a 40 percent stake in a joint venture that operates South Sudan's oil fields, and also operates a 1,000-kilometer oil export pipeline that ships crude through neighboring Sudan.
Oil production has been disrupted by months of unrest stemming from a political dispute between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar.
Ethnic violence and fighting between pro- and anti-government troops has killed an estimated 10,000 people and driven more than a million South Sudanese from their homes since December.
Late last month, a U.N. helicopter crashed in Bentiu, capital of Unity State, killing three Russian crewmen and injuring a fourth. The U.N. mission said Tuesday that investigators believe the helicopter was shot down, although the mission said it was "premature" to say who was responsible.
Earlier this year, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution increasing the size of the U.N. force in South Sudan from 7,000 to 12,500. The Chinese spokeswoman, Hua, said Tuesday that in line with that resolution, "China decided to deploy more people and enhance our effort in that situation."
This is believed to be China's largest contribution to a U.N. peacekeeping force. In March 2013, China sent some 300 peacekeepers to Mali.