28 February 2011

China SignPost™ (洞察中国) #26–Missile Frigate Xuzhou Transits Suez Canal, to Arrive off Libya ~Wednesday 2 March: China’s first operational deployment to Mediterranean addresses Libya’s evolving security situation

Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, Missile Frigate Xuzhou Transits Suez Canal, to Arrive off Libya ~Wednesday 2 March: China’s first operational deployment to Mediterranean addresses Libya’s evolving security situation,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 26 (27 February 2011).

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

Current situation

Libya’s security situation is becoming increasingly volatile as embattled leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi faces an increasingly capable set of opposition forces. Anti-government forces have been bolstered by the decision by most of Libya’s 80,000-strong armed forces to lay down their arms, according to the Globe and Mail. Anti-government forces are also capturing territory in western Libya, Gaddafi’s traditional regional stronghold, and are now deploying tanks and other heavy weapons, reports the Los Angeles Times.

We project that if Gaddafi indeed attempts to retain power until the end, the stage will be set for high-casualty confrontations between pro- and anti-regime forces, which are becoming ever-more-evenly matched. Chinese remaining in Libya risk getting caught in the crossfire. China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) says that while its 391 employees in country are all safe, some of its oil facilities there have been attacked. Against this volatile backdrop, the desire of China and other countries to deploy military platforms to oversee the evacuation of citizens still trapped in Libya is highly understandable. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Song Tao says that as of 25 February, 12,000 of the ~30,000 Chinese citizens in Libya had been evacuated by chartered planes, ships, and buses (Xinhua).

To ensure a reliable backstop to these continuing operations in accordance with Beijing’s robust conception of national sovereignty, China’s navy is conducting its first-ever operational deployment to the Mediterranean. It is designed specifically to safeguard evacuation operations in uncertain conditions, to ensure that Beijing has a voice in critical regional issues, and to help guarantee that China’s government is seen as capable and competent both at home and abroad. As Qu Xing, president of the China Institute for International Studies, told China Central Television (CCTV): “No matter what kind of attitude the foreign media are having when seeing China, they will have to agree that China has the efficiency, power, and mobility to handle such activities.” …

For more details on Beijing’s dispatching of the frigate Xuzhou to escort ships transporting Chinese citizens from Libya, see 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).

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).