12 March 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Eight Bells Book Lecture: “No Substitute for Experience: Chinese Anti-Piracy Operations in the Gulf of Aden”

Andrew S. Erickson, “No Substitute for Experience: Chinese Anti-Piracy Operations in the Gulf of Aden,” Eight Bells Book Lecture, Naval War College Museum, Newport, RI, 27 February 2014.

Click here to watch the video on YouTube.

Volume covered in lecture:

Andrew S. Erickson and Austin M. Strange, No Substitute for Experience: Chinese Anti-Piracy Operations in the Gulf of Aden, Naval War College CMSI China Maritime Study 10 (November 2013).

In this carefully researched, comprehensive, and highly detailed study, the authors address six major aspects of China’s anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden since their inception in December 2008: Modern Piracy and the Relevance to China; Institutional Underpinnings: Domestic Political and Policy Issues; China’s Views on Multilateral Coordination; China’s Recent Antipiracy Activities in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean; Operational Trajectories; and Lessons Learned and Implications for Global Maritime Governance. The authors conclude that through these operations “China’s navy has accrued know-how … that it could not have gained otherwise. It has implemented [this knowledge] … with impressive speed and resourcefulness … increasing PLAN capabilities and confidence.” But, the authors caution, “China’s process of gaining Far Seas experience is not simply one of increasing naval capabilities–it is far broader. Antipiracy operations conveniently enable China both to respond to internal and external pressures to act on the international stage and to raise significantly the overall ability of its increasingly powerful navy.”

The twenty-sixth of December 2012 marked an important date in Chinese military history—the fourth anniversary of China’s furthest and most extensive naval operations to date, the ongoing antipiracy deployments in the Gulf of Aden. In the first-ever simultaneous three-fleet public display, China’s North Sea Fleet, East Sea Fleet, and South Sea Fleet all held “open day activities.” The guided-missile destroyers QingdaoGuangzhouand Shenzhen and guided-missile frigate Zhoushantogether with their associated helicopters and personnel, were visited by more than eight thousand people “from all sectors of the society” at the port cities after which they are named. Over the past four years, the People’s Liberation Army Navy has deployed nearly ten thousand personnel on thirty-seven warships with twenty-eight helicopters in thirteen task forces. Over the course of more than five hundred operations, these forces have protected more than five thousand commercial vessels—Chinese and foreign in nearly equal proportion, the latter flagged by more than fifty nations. They have “successfully met and escorted, rescued and salvaged over 60 ships.” Ships saved from pirates by PLAN ships include four transports loaded with World Food Programme cargo.

Beijing has rightly been recognized for this contribution: “The escort in the Gulf of Aden provided by the Chinese naval task force is a strong support in cracking down [on] Somali piracies [sic] for the international community” Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations (UN), has been quoted as declaring, “which reflects China’s important role in international affairs.” In a new era of international interaction, the PLAN has cooperated with counterpart vessels from over twenty foreign countries “to exchange information regarding piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Somali sea area.”

Undertaken primarily to safeguard China’s economic interests, the operations also stimulate interagency coordination with the PLAN in a vital position, provide irreplaceable naval training, catalyze the development of naval skill sets often taken for granted but absolutely critical for long-distance operations, and offer tentative indications of Beijing’s approach to maritime governance as a great power. The results thus far are largely positive, albeit modest. China’s navy is increasing its out-of-area capabilities, but it would require tremendous improvements in force structure, human capital, training, and experience to translate present resources into an ability to engage in high-intensity combat operations in what Chinese strategists term the “Far Seas” (远海). Still, antipiracy operations serve as a modest springboard by which China can achieve the international status and influence that it covets, since they allow China to be seen providing public goods and cooperating to defend the global system. Whatever the ultimate trajectory of China’s maritime power, its escort missions are likely to persist for some time and hence will continue to offer a valuable window into the future of China’s naval role beyond East Asia. Indeed, they offer the first major insights into China’s Far Seas operations and its approach thereto. Four years on, the PLAN’s Gulf of Aden antipiracy mission is highlighted by ten Chinese naval breakthroughs, all of which underscore China’s most significant lesson learned through its antipiracy mission: there is no substitute for experience, and the PLAN has had to learn many things by doing them.

  • The mission’s greatest organizational value is its forcing and facilitating of real-time interagency coordination of a scope, duration, and effectiveness rarely seen in Chinese civil-military and security affairs.
  • The PLAN has been empowered and required to coordinate directly with civilian organizations such as the Ministry of Transportation (MoT), transcending traditional bureaucratic and civil-military stovepipes and bringing the service out from under the People’s Liberation Army’s organizational shadow.
  • The transformation in organizational coordination is aided by the application of new technology to the PLAN’s Gulf of Aden mission, which serves as an invaluable venue for testing Chinese satellites and new communications technology away from home.
  • As a result of antipiracy operations, the PLAN is carving out a niche role in Chinese diplomacy, as Chinese antipiracy warships increasingly work with other navies and call on foreign ports for resupply and exchanges.
  • Chinese ships and their crewmen deployed to the Gulf of Aden have no choice but to master the logistical skills and concepts associated with protracted, long-distance naval operations, including balancing underway and in-port replenishment and maintaining crew morale for extended periods amid rigorous conditions.
  • Perhaps the mission’s greatest operational value is forcing personnel to face unscripted, unpredictable situations—the most intense operational experience presently available to China’s navy.
  • The PLAN has traversed a steep learning curve with impressive speed and resourcefulness, enhancing both specific escort protection techniques and associated supporting capabilities.
  • The operations have already yielded significant procedural, training, and operational improvements and may influence maintenance procedures and even ship design.
  • Having taken these challenges in stride, China’s navy is gaining confidence.
  • By contributing useful public goods, antipiracy operations offer Beijing increased global maritime influence.

 Propelled by both domestic and international interests, antipiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden thus bring China into a more rewarding yet more difficult realm in which expectations are rising in both respects.

On close examination, however, the PLAN’s unprecedented actions raise an important foundational question: Why did China’s leaders decide that antipiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden provided the right opportunity for the nation’s first regularized overseas naval deployments? A confluence of several specific factors was involved. 

 

Contents

Authors’ Note …………………………………………………………………………………………………………. vii

Introduction: Why Antipiracy in the Gulf of Aden?………………………………………………………1

CHAPTER ONE Modern Piracy and Its Relevance to China……………………….. 9

CHAPTER TWO Institutional Underpinnings: Domestic Political and

Policy Issues…………………………………………………………..45

CHAPTER THREE China’s Views on Multilateral Coordination……………………..57

CHAPTER FOUR China’s Recent Antipiracy Activities in the Gulf of Aden

and Indian Ocean……………………………………………………………….81

CHAPTER FIVE Operational Trajectories…………………………………………………….121

CHAPTER SIX Lessons Learned and Implications for Global

Maritime Governance…………………………………………….. 167

Conclusion: No Substitute for Experience………………………………………………………………..187

Appendix: Notional PLAN Order of Battle by Fleet…………………………………………………..190

Abbreviations and Definitions………………………………………………………………….. 192

About the Authors ……………………………………………………………………………….. 195

Authors’ Note

This eighteen-month study is based on a comprehensive survey of more than two thousand discrete Chinese-language sources published over the past five years. It also draws on discussions with Chinese experts in China and the United States, including one former People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) official and one PLAN officer. The most important of these sources are cited herein. Sources that were examined systematically include the official PLAN publications 人民海军 (People’s Navy), 当代海军(Modern Navy), 海军医学杂志 (Journal of Navy Medicine), and 中华航海医学与高气压医学杂志(China Journal of Nautical Medicine and Hyperbaric Medicine); the official PLA publication 解放军报 (Liberation Army Daily); and such official state media sources as 中国日报 (China Daily),人民日报 (People’s Daily), and 中央电视台 (China Central Television/CCTV)—particularly the program “军事报道” (“Military Report”) on China’sofficial military channel, CCTV-7. In selected instances, particularly cases in which translations are especially substantive, lengthy, or have required significant adjudication between literal rendering of Chinese and expressions that would be most intelligible to an English-speaking audience, the original Chinese is appended in an endnote. Every effort has been made to communicate to an English-reading audience in nuanced fashion what Chinese sources themselves are expressing, even when English readers might differ conceptually or substantively. Where possible, such potential ambiguity is noted in endnotes. The one major exception is the widespread description by Chinese sources of ships seized by pirates as having been “hijacked”; from an international legal perspective, “pirated” would be the correct term.

The authors thank Bernard Cole, Gabriel Collins, Peter Dutton, Glen Forbes, William Murray, two anonymous reviewers, and one operational specialist for their insightful comments concerning previous drafts of this study, as well as military operators from multiple nations for sharing their insights. The views expressed herein are those of the authors alone and not those of the U.S. Navy or any other agency of the U.S. government.

Related writings:

Andrew S. Erickson and Austin M. Strange, “Why China’s Gulf Piracy Fight Matters,” Global Public Square, CNN, 7 January 2014.

Andrew S. Erickson and Austin M. Strange, “Piracy’s Next Frontier: A Role for China in Gulf of Guinea Security?” The National Interest, 10 December 2013.

Andrew Erickson and Austin Strange, “China and the International Antipiracy Effort,” The Diplomat, 1 November 2013.

Andrew S. Erickson and Austin M. Strange, “Pragmatic Partners, the Unsung Story of U.S.-China Anti-Piracy Coordination,” Guest Blog Post for Elizabeth C. Economy, Asia Unbound, Council on Foreign Relations, 24 October 2013.

Andrew S. Erickson and Austin M. Strange, “Sunk Costs: China and the Pirates,” The Diplomat, 26 September 2013.

Andrew S. Erickson and Austin M. Strange, “Learning the Ropes in Blue Water: The Chinese Navy’s Gulf of Aden Deployments Have Borne Worthwhile Lessons in Far-Seas Operations—Lessons that Go Beyond the Antipiracy Mission,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 139.4 (April 2013): 34-38.

Andrew Erickson and Austin Strange, “‘Selfish Superpower’ No Longer? China’s Anti-Piracy Activities and 21st-Century Global Maritime Governance,” Harvard Asia Quarterly, 14.1/2 (Spring/Summer 2012): 92-102.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Chinese Sea Power in Action: the Counter-Piracy Mission in the Gulf of Aden and Beyond,” in Roy Kamphausen, David Lai, and Andrew Scobell, eds., The PLA at Home and Abroad: Assessing the Operational Capabilities of China’s Military (Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College and National Bureau of Asian Research, July 2010), 295-376.

Andrew S. Erickson and Justin D. Mikolay, “Welcome China to the Fight Against Pirates,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 135.3 (March 2009): 34-41.