06 May 2015

Chinese Cooperation to Protect Sea-Lane Security: Antipiracy Operations in the Gulf of Aden

Andrew S. Erickson and Austin M. Strange, “Chinese Cooperation to Protect Sea-Lane Security: Antipiracy Operations in the Gulf of Aden,” in Peter A. Dutton and Ryan D. Martinson, eds., Beyond the Wall: Chinese Far Seas Operations, Naval War College China Maritime Study 13 (May 2015).

Antipiracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden represent a successful example of cooperation between China and the international community to achieve sea-lane security far from China’s shores. Over the past six years, Chinese naval ships and personnel joined elements of over forty other navies in the fight against Somali piracy. This represents the first time that the People’s Republic of China has deployed naval forces operationally (as opposed to representationally) beyond its immediate maritime borders. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) antipiracy escort task forces, typically composed of one or more guided-missile frigates and destroyers and a supply ship, have escorted ships from China and other nations in armed convoys since the inaugural escort task force departed China on 26 December 2008. At the mission’s sixth anniversary at the end of 2014, fifteen thousand personnel in nineteen PLAN task forces had escorted nearly six thousand merchant ships—roughly half of them foreign—in eight hundred batches. The task forces had “performed deliveries of eight vessels released by pirates, rescued and aided eight vessels under attack[,] . . . saved forty-three vessels from the chase of pirates,” and rendered other assistance to five vessels.

Despite earlier signals that China might halt its contributions, PLAN antipiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden continue uninterrupted and are likely to persist for the foreseeable future. “So far,” the commander of the PLAN, Adm. Wu Shengli, told one of the authors in September 2014, “There is no end in sight for the mission.” On 12 November 2014 the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) extended its mandate for state navies to fight piracy off Somalia until 12 November 2015.3 Already likely to continue contributions, on the strength of policies and past practice, the PLAN became almost certain to do so following the announcement in late 2014 that the navy of China’s East Asian rival Japan, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, would soon take command of a major international antipiracy coalition. … … …