01 March 2009

Welcome China to the Fight Against Pirates

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.

The Chinese deployment to the Gulf of Aden is historic and significant. The ongoing deployment of Chinese naval vessels to the troubled Gulf of Aden signals an important step in the evolution of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Observers of China’s growing naval fleet have long imagined scenarios that might prompt the PLAN to exercise blue-water capability. Few predicted the precise series of events that has revealed this new era of Chinese maritime security. From 16 to 18 December 2008, Somali pirates tried and failed to hijack a Chinese merchant vessel; the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) provided expanded authority to pursue pirates into sovereign Somali territory; and Chinese officials announced that the PLAN would send three naval vessels to support counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, off the Horn of Africa. The result: On 6 January 2009, Chinese destroyers joined a multinational constellation of naval vessels in cooperation with the Somali Transitional Federal Government to combat piracy.

The United States, in accordance with its new maritime strategy, has welcomed China’s participation as an example of cooperation that furthers international security. While the Chinese motivation to deploy to the Gulf of Aden clearly springs from a variety of factors, Beijing’s contribution to maritime security should indeed be applauded. This latest activity has offered a model for how the two great powers might cooperate to promote global security. This may ultimately allow the two countries to move beyond their tendency to compete and may promote a brighter future of cooperative coexistence. The United States and 16 other nations that participate in counter-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean region—including Indian, Russian, as well as NATO forces—should seek from this unprecedented deployment ways to generate lasting military cooperation with China. … …