Feng, who does a fantastic job tracking PLAN activity, is noting perhaps one of the most interesting Chinese Naval developments so far this century. China will reportedly announce on Wednesday in the United Nations their intentions to send a task force of 2 ships from the South China Sea Fleet to Somalia to fight pirates along side the international community gathering there in those efforts. Some interesting quotes from the article:
“The fleet will leave the South China Sea and head to the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters,” the Global Times reported yesterday.
A Chinese journalist who is likely to accompany the naval fleet said the operation would last three months.
Feng is guessing it will be one of the Jiangweis and a supply ship. We’ll know for sure in a few days. More details…
A military strategist told China Daily that joining other countries to fight Somali pirates would be a “very good opportunity” for the Chinese navy to get into the thick of the action.
“Apart from fighting pirates, another key goal is to register the presence of the Chinese navy,” Prof Li Jie, a naval researcher, told China Daily.
China has never dispatched any troops on combat missions overseas. But in 2002, two Chinese vessels – a destroyer and a supplier – spent four months on a global tour, the country’s first.
Li also would not confirm the mission but added that “if the navy’s special forces join in, that will be in order to counter the pirates’ attempt to board other ships”.
This last point sticks out to me as a key signal.
“China’s image as a responsible sovereign nation will improve by participating in such missions,” he said, but noted he didn’t expect the number of troops in any such mission would be high.
“It would be on a limited scale initially,” Pang said.
Admiral Keating, call your office. Admiral Fitzgerald is on line 1. It really is a fascinating development, one that I personally think is a great thing and sends exactly the kind of signal we have been desiring from China for most of this decade. I don’t think China misunderstands our desire is to work with them as a partner, and the signal here is they see themselves as part of the partnership.
This move really isn’t unexpected though, indeed several China observers including myself have predicted this was likely, because the move is very much aligned with China’s ongoing soft power strategy in Africa. There are 1 million Chinese living in Africa, Africa is where China is heavily invested for future energy supplies, and as the economic ties continue to grow between China and many African nations, a problem in Africa that has regional economic impact and creates regional instability can be seen as a direct threat to Chinese interests. Somali piracy, as an international problem in a region China is heavily invested, is a natural starting place for China to develop its forward deployed naval capabilities.
If China, Russia, India, other Asian powers, the European powers, and the United States are all working together in a common cause to fight piracy, the role for the US Navy isn’t necessarily to lead the engagement, but more importantly, do what we can to be the enabler of cooperation between so many different nations. At this point is seems the next step is to determine how can we best fill that supporting role, as opposed to trying to take leadership or ownership of the problem. Do we need to dispatch a ship to act as a C2 enabler, a large ship that can bring the staffs of all the various partners involved together to insure better intelligence and communications?
If I was in Washington, I’d be buying Admiral Mullen a round, because in effect, the sometimes maligned 1000-Ship Navy is coming into its own right before our eyes. Are we ready to meet the Command and Control challenge that is almost certainly to be apparent quickly with such a large number of nations gathering in common cause? I hope we are thinking these necessary steps ahead, the success of the fight against Somalian piracy just became more important than the actual economic impact of Somalian piracy, because it now represents the symbol of whether the unified partnership model can be successful when applied under an international legal standard. We are approaching a rather remarkable time in modern naval history, hopefully we sense that and are ready to seize this moment and use it to leverage this international partnership as a model to shape the future.