27 February 2011

South China Morning Post: “PLA Navy Sends Warship to Safeguard Libya Evacuees–Frigate Diverted from Anti-Piracy Patrols to Protect Chinese”

Greg Torode and Minnie Chan, PLA Navy Sends Warship to Safeguard Libya Evacuees–Frigate Diverted from Anti-Piracy Patrols to Protect Chinese,” South China Morning Post, 26 February 2011.

…The missile frigate Xuzhou is under orders to “support and protect” the more than 30,000 Chinese nationals being evacuated from Libya on civilian ships as the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi teeters on the brink of collapse.

The Ministry of National Defence reported the move on its website yesterday, saying the order was issued on Thursday, which means the vessel could be off the Libyan coast early next week after being pulled off anti-piracy patrols in the Indian Ocean.

It is just the second time People’s Liberation Army Navy ships have been deployed to the Mediterranean—and the first time the PLA has intervened in a humanitarian crisis. …

Scholars and PLA analysts inside and outside China said the move reflected an array of strategic interests for Beijing – and could prove to be the first of many such missions.

Major General Ji Mingkui, a professor with the PLA’s National Defence University, told the official China Radio International last night that the role of the PLA Navy abroad should be further expanded into other less traditional areas.

“With non-security missions … increasing, our navy’s participation in the evacuation of overseas Chinese people [during crisis] is just one of their tasks,” Ji said. “We will not only dispatch warships to evacuate our people overseas [when needed] in future, but in other ways … to protect our national interests overseas because our navy’s missions will be expanded as time goes on.” …

Beijing-based military analyst Song Xiaojun said while the mission was a “good beginning” it also showed the PLA’s projection of military force was still weak because the air force should have been used.

“I think the PLA Navy’s participation in the humanitarian crisis in Libya would help our army to fight for more funding and resources for our defence budget,” Song said. “With more … Chinese workers and technicians working overseas, in less and underdeveloped countries with unstable political situations, our country needs to protect their lives and safety as they are also working for our overseas investments.”

In a commentary, US Naval War College professor Andrew Erickson and security specialist Gabe Collins wrote: “China has global interests, cannot ride free forever, and requires a presence in critical areas and situations in order to have a voice.”

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).