22 April 2014

Parallel Progress, Positive Potential: Sino-American Cooperation to Further Sea Lane Security in the Gulf of Aden

Andrew S. Erickson and Austin M. Strange, “Parallel Progress, Positive Potential: Sino-American Cooperation to Further Sea Lane Security in the Gulf of Aden,” China International Strategy Review 2013 (2013): 479-501.

Anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden represent a successful example of international cooperation to secure sea lines of communication (SLOC), which involves cooperation between the U.S. and China and with the navies of many other nations. What are the strengths and weaknesses of U.S. and Chinese naval cooperation in the fight against piracy, and what lessons does each nation’s experience in the Gulf of Aden offer for future Sino-American joint efforts to safeguard SLOCs in other maritime regions? This article (1) introduces piracy as a shared non-traditional maritime security threat, (2) surveys PLAN anti-piracy operations and Sino-American approaches, (3) examines the nature of U.S.-China anti-piracy cooperation to date, (4) discusses lessons offered by the Gulf of Aden case for future U.S.-China maritime commons governance, and (5) offers larger principles to guide bilateral cooperation.

This article reaches the following principal conclusions:

  • Both the U.S. and China rely on secure SLOCs to an unusual degree. China’s reliance is rising with particular rapidity.
  • Anti-piracy offers the U.S. and China an unusually promising venue for cooperation thanks to its apolitical nature and the shared threat.
  • Cooperation has reduced piracy significantly in the Gulf of Aden, but it is rising elsewhere, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea.
  • China remains an independent deployer, working cautiously in parallel with other partner navies in the Gulf of Aden. Nevertheless, its contributions are already significant.
  • Shared Awareness and De-Confliction (SHADE) remains the key coordination mechanism in which the U.S. and Chinese navies participate. They also have bilateral visits, information exchanges, and exercises—though these have been modest to date and there is considerable room for increase.
  • Joint exercises in the Gulf of Aden from August 24-25 2013 featured destroyer USS Mason and Chinese missile destroyer Harbin, as well as helicopters and Special Forces attached to both warships.
  • The operations can help pave the way for the PLAN’s first-ever participation in the 2014 Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC).
  • Given the idiosyncratic nature of piracy in different areas, it is difficult to apply tactics and operational know-how directly across regions—though the Gulf of Guinea is far more similar to the Gulf of Aden than the South China Sea.
  • Perhaps the Gulf of Aden operations’ most tangible lesson for both sides is the importance of identifying common interests and challenges, and maintaining constant dialogues accordingly.

Further information:

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.

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 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).

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.