25 February 2011

Jeremy Page, Wall Street Journal: “Libyan Turmoil Prompts Chinese Naval Firsts”

Jeremy Page, Libyan Turmoil Prompts Chinese Naval Firsts,” China Real Time Report, Wall Street Journal, 25 February 2011.

China has sent one of its most modern warships to protect vessels extracting thousands of its citizens from Libya, in the Asian power’s first naval operation in the Mediterranean Sea and its first deployment of military hardware in a civilian evacuation mission.

The Chinese navy diverted the Xuzhou, a 4,000 ton missile frigate, from anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia and dispatched it to the Libyan coast on Thursday, according to a statement on the Chinese Defense Ministry’s web site.

The evacuation reflects the mounting pressure on China’s government to protect the growing number of Chinese citizens living and working overseas, especially in unstable regions where China is seeking supplies of oil and other key raw materials to feed its booming economy.

The Xuzhou’s deployment also illustrates the Chinese navy’s increasing capacity to operate far beyond China’s own shores in order to protect the country’s perceived interests, including the security of its businesses and citizens.

As well as boosting the navy’s public image, the Xuzhou’s deployment could help it secure future funding, particularly for a program to develop aircraft carriers, according to Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins of China Signpost, a website providing analysis and policy recommendations on China.

“Chinese policymakers now have a precedent for future military operations in areas where the lives and property of expatriate PRC (People’s Republic of China) citizens come under threat,” they wrote in a commentary on the deployment.

The two-year-old Xuzhou, which is armed with weapons including HHQ-16 surface-to-air missiles and carries a Z-9 helicopter, was one of three Chinese ships taking part in joint international anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden. …

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).