China’s decision to send warships to battle pirates off Somalia — taking on a job that involves cooperating with other nations and possible combat — is a cautious step toward more engagement by Beijing.
Though China has a huge global commercial maritime presence, the People’s Liberation Army Navy has primarily focused on defending China’s coast and, until now, limited operations abroad to port calls, goodwill visits and exercises with other navies.
“They’re on an actual mission, which could potentially involve combat, albeit of low intensity. That’s a real difference,” said Lyle Goldstein, director of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the U.S. Naval War College. “This is not a dangerous mission — actually, it’s the perfect coming out party for the Chinese navy.”
By ANITA CHANG, Associated Press Writer
China has never sent military forces overseas other than as part of a U.N.-mandated peacekeeping mission, according to Bonnie Glaser, a China specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. A Foreign Ministry announcement Thursday that China was making preparations to deploy warships followed a unanimous U.N. Security Council vote this week authorizing nations to conduct land and air attacks against pirates.
The Council acted as piracy has taken an increasingly costly toll on international shipping, especially in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s busiest sea lanes. Spurred by widespread poverty in their homeland, the pirates have made an estimated $30 million hijacking ships for ransom this year, seizing more than 40 vessels off Somalia’s 1,880-mile (3,000-kilometer) coastline.
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