China agreed Thursday to join the United States, Europe, and others in a multilateral naval force to prevent piracy off the coast of Somalia.
Its participation in the year-old Contact Group of Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) will bolster the fight against a growing threat in a critical shipping corridor as well as expand China’s military activity abroad – a trend that has been drawn praise as well as concern.
Attacks in the Gulf of Aden have reached an all-time high, though their success rate has dropped, officials leading the international effort to fight piracy said Thursday. The three-quarters of ships that follow best practices have remained free from targeting, said Paul Chivers, chief of staff of the UN-backed European Union antipiracy operation, according to CNN.
Chinese participation “will make the patrolling more efficient,” said Carl Salicath, head of the CGPCS.
As the threat to Chinese ships has grown, so has China’s role in fighting piracy, Agence France-Presse noted. A Chinese bulk carrier hijacked last October was freed last month with a $3.5 million ransom payment.
Since late 2008, China has dispatched four flotillas to the Gulf of Aden area. Last December, a top naval official suggested setting up a permanent base for ships fighting piracy there.
Rising role abroad: a good thing?
But some worry about China’s rising role abroad. If it agreed to a permanent base in the Gulf of Aden, could it also set up foreign bases elsewhere?
As Monitor correspondent Jonathan Adams has noted, China’s decision to simply send warships to fight pirates in 2008 drew “an ambivalent global reaction – a sign of the decidedly mixed feelings toward its bid for big-power status.”
China’s smaller neighbors are especially wary of an expanded naval presence, through which China could assert its claim over long-disputed islands and oil and gas lying in their shared seas. Diplomatic tension flared up again just three weeks ago, the Monitor's Peter Ford reported.
The other side of the argument is that China’s participation on this front could ease concerns about its growing military might.
“Trust will be built as escorts are given for vessels other than those that are Chinese. Joint naval exercises will develop co-operation. Administering operations will improve communication,” said an editorial in the South China Morning Post, quoted in a news roundup.
“Sometimes the best way of getting to know any nation - and building trust with it - is to work closely with its people...”