25 February 2011

Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press/Yahoo News: “In Unprecedented Move, China Sends Navy Ship to Protect Libya Evacuees”

Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press, In Unprecedented Move, China Sends Navy Ship to Protect Libya Evacuees,” Yahoo News, 25 February 2011.

BEIJING, China — China is taking the unprecedented step of dispatching a navy ship to protect its citizens being evacuated from conflict-ridden Libya — underscoring the navy’s growing capabilities and Beijing’s need to protect its citizens abroad.

The missile frigate Xuzhou was ordered to break off from anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden and is sailing toward Libya, the Defence Ministry said in a notice reported by state media Friday. It’s orders are to protect ships carrying Chinese expatriates to safety, the notice issued Thursday said. No details were given.

The ship’s mission, approved by the Central Military Commission headed by President Hu Jintao, marks the first time China’s entaglement-wary leaders have ever sent a navy ship to take part in the evacuation of civilians. …

In Libya, Chinese workers have been injured and driven from their dormitories by looters who have attacked more than two dozen Chinese-run construction sites.

In addition to preventing attacks on ships carrying evacuees, the Xuzhou’s dispatch also serves as a warning to elements in Libya not to harm Chinese civilians or prevent them from leaving the country, U.S. Naval War College China expert Andrew Erickson wrote in an article published late Thursday (http://www.chinasignpost.com/2011/02/china-dispatches-warship-to-protect-libya-evacuation-mission-marks-the-prc%e2%80%99s-first-use-of-frontline-military-assets-to-protect-an-evacuation-mission/).

“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 … requires a presence in critical areas and situations in order to have a voice,” Erickson wrote.

The mission sets a precedent for future operations in areas overseas where the lives and property of Chinese are threatened and will burnish the navy’s credentials among the public, Erickson said. That in turn could help the force procure greater funding and support for aircraft carriers and other programs, he said.

The 4,500-ton Xuzhou was launched in 2006 and carries an array of air defence and anti-ship missiles, along with a Chinese-made Z-9 helicopter. To get to Libya, the ship must pass through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal and it wasn’t clear when it would arrive. …

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).