24 February 2011

China SignPost™ (洞察中国) #25–China Dispatches Warship to Protect Libya Evacuation Mission: Marks the PRC’s first use of frontline military assets to protect an evacuation mission

Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, China Dispatches Warship to Protect Libya Evacuation Mission: Marks the PRC’s first use of frontline military assets to protect an evacuation mission,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 25 (24 February 2011).

China SignPost 洞察中国–“Clear, high-impact China analysis.”©

What we know

The PLA Navy has just dispatched Xuzhou, a Type 054 Jiangkai-II class missile frigate, from the ongoing seventh PLAN anti-piracy task force deployment off Somalia to steam to Libyan coast to provide support and protection for the ongoing evacuation mission there. The escort mission has been approved by the Central Military Commission, according to Xinhua, and at least 6,300 of the roughly 30,000 PRC citizens in Libya have been evacuated. The news agency adds that the Chinese evacuation is also utilizing chartered aircraft, overland routes to Egypt and Tunisia, ships from China’s major state shipping firms, and Greek merchant vessels in the region, which are said to be closely coordinating their operations with the Chinese government and plan to evacuate up to 15,000 Chinese from Libya.

Beijing’s speedy response shows nimbleness in handling a situation where descent into chaos has directly impacted Chinese citizens’ security. As of 23 February 2011, the Ministry of Commerce said at least 27 Chinese-run construction sites had been attacked by armed individuals and that there were numerous injuries. Commissioned in 2008, Xuzhou is a 4,000-ton frigate with a Vertical Launch System capable of launching HHQ-16 surface-to-air missiles to protect against air threats and a hangar with one Z-9 helicopter. It is a solid medium-sized warship, but cannot carry many people and thus would not be useful as a rescue vessel. Xuzhou’s escort mission is likely designed to serve several related immediate objectives, including avoiding a USS Cole-style terrorism or irregular attack scenario that could harm evacuees, and sending a clear message to various elements in Libya not to harm Chinese civilians or disrupt their evacuation. This latest initiative is part of a larger ongoing increase in Chinese power, presence, and influence around the world, and should come as no surprise. China has global interests, cannot free ride forever, and requires a presence in critical areas and situations in order to have a voice. …

For analysis of Beijing’s interests in Libya and the surrounding region, see Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “Libya Looming: Key strategic implications for China of unrest in the Arab World and Iran,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 24 (22 February 2011).

For early projections regarding Chinese efforts to protect citizens overseas, see Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, “Looking After China’s Own: Pressure to Protect PRC Citizens Working Overseas Likely to Rise,” China Signpost 洞察中国™, No. 2 (17 August 2010).