Why China’s Gulf piracy fight matters


Why China’s Gulf piracy fight matters



By Andrew S. Erickson and Austin M. Strange,Special to CNN

来自Andrew S. Erickson 和Austin M. Strange,CNN特刊


Editor’s note: Andrew S. Ericksonis an associate professor inthe Strategic Research Department at the U.S. Naval War College.AustinM. Strange is a research associate at the China Maritime StudiesInstitute. The views expressedare the authors’ alone.

编者按:Andrew S. Erickson是美国海军战争学院战略研究部的副教授。Austin M. Strange是中国海事研究所助理研究员。本文谨代表作者个人看法。

December 26, Chairman Mao’s birthday, is always a significant datefor China. But last month’s 120th anniversarycame at a time when his legacy is increasingly subject to vigorous debate amongthe Chinese public, media, academia and even officialdom. And it alsoestablished a new landmark in contemporary Chinese history, an unprecedentedmilestone in Chinese foreign policy that Mao would surely be proud of: the 5th year anniversary of China’s navalanti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.


To honor the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)’s contributionsto maritime security off Somalia, the China Maritime Museum, located inShanghai, opened a special exhibit that runs into March, and which featuresphotos and actual mission mementos. Chinese media outlets continue to roll outa flurry of articles commemorating the occasion. But what is the actualsignificance of Chinese anti-piracy activities? And what has China accomplishedthere over the past five years?


First and foremost, China’s naval foray into the Gulf of Aden,beginning in 2008, is a resounding response from Beijing to threats against itsoverseas interests. Chinese people and economic assets continue to dispersethroughout the world at record pace nearly four decades after Deng Xiaoping’s openingup reforms. As a result, nontraditional security breaches outside of China,such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks (and, in this case, maritimepiracy) pose growing threats to Chinese national interests.


The ocean is at the center of China’s “Going out” policy: Chinarelies on seaborne shipping for the vast majority of its trade, and PLAN isemerging as China’s most prominent service. Both Beijing’s calculated, resoluteresponse to Somali pirate attacks on Chinese citizens, as well as its steadfastcommitment to protecting Chinese and foreign ships over the last five years,signal China’s staunch commitment to ensuring safe conditions for Chineseoverseas.


Statistics accumulated over the past five years make clearBeijing’s commitment to security sea lines of communication (SLOCs). Accordingto state media, the PLAN has dispatched 15,000 personnel over 16 escorttaskforce flotillas since 2008, averaging three per year. Taskforces, whichusually consist of China’s most advanced frigates, destroyers and amphibiousships, have escorted 5,463 Chinese and foreign commercial ships – over1,000 ships per year. PLAN forces have alsothwarted more than 30 potential pirate attacks, rescued over 40 commercialships, and escorted 11 vessels previously taken by pirates. Moreover, the factthat such information is actively recorded and publicized demonstrates thestate’s desire to derive maximum domestic and international publicity benefitsfrom the missions.


Besides safeguarding national interests, China’s investment inGulf of Aden security continues tosharpen the abilities of PLAN personnel, platforms, and institutions.Operational achievements such as improved logistical supply chains, intra-navycoordination breakthroughs and greater focus on sailors’ morale are a fewhighlights of the mission that have real consequences for broader Chinesemilitary development. Chinese sailors have, to put it bluntly, used Gulf ofAden operations to grow from “maritimerookies” to “confident seadogs.”


These lessons are readily apparent to China’s navy and the rest ofthe world. Yet the PLAN’s Gulf of Aden five-year anniversary is a milestone forreasons beyond the military domain. For those interested in China’s role in 21st century international society, fiveyears off the coast of Somalia have allowed the opportunity to observe China inits first protracted, direct operational role within the context ofinternational security outside of East Asia. The PLAN has embodied the spiritof “creative involvement” off Somalia, operating independent of but in parallelwith Western and other naval forces.


More broadly, the missions signal that Beijing appears willing tocooperate with the United States and other naval powers to tackle nontraditionalsecurity challenges placing all sides “in the same boat.” Those calling on theMiddle Kingdom to grow into a responsible stakeholder following persistenteconomic development and ascendancy in status can therefore cite Gulf of Adenanti-piracy as a modest but welcome example. 更广泛地讲,索马里护航彰显出这样一个信号,北京愿意与美国以及其他国家海军合作,共同应对非传统性安全挑战,让所有人坐上“同一艘船”。那些呼吁“中央王国”成长为一个负责任的利益攸关方,并维持经济发展和优势地位的人,将亚丁湾反海盗行动看作一个谦逊但又可喜的例子。

It may not be surprising to see states joining forces againstnontraditional threats like piracy since there are clear economic and politicalincentives for cooperating rather than competing. But the fact that China continuesto work actively with U.S., Japan and European navies off Somalia isunprecedented given choppy maritime relations between these states in theAsia-Pacific. The Gulf of Aden has played the foil to China’s assertivereputation in the contentious East and South China Seas, where Beijing’sbehavior is increasingly perceived as counterproductive and downrightdangerous.


True, while five years is a significant commitment, it would beunrealistic to suggest that the Gulf of Aden experience might directly impactmaritime relations in other regions, such as the Yellow, East, and South ChinaSeas – rife with tensions over core interests between Beijing and itsneighbors. Yet China’s global maritime engagement stretches far beyond thewaters of East Asia, and the world will expect more genuine contributions fromBeijing as its stake in international security grows regardless of the state ofaffairs in China’s immediate neighborhood. Indeed, in the 21st century China’s foreign policy isbeing pulled in different directions as Beijing strives to balance traditionalprinciples with pragmatic needs.


Ultimately, while tensions remain close to home, five years ofuninterrupted anti-piracy deployments in distant seas reflects a qualitativeimprovement in Chinese global security engagement, a development that should bewelcomed by the international community. If China and other states can look tothe Gulf of Aden as a model for pragmatic cooperation, it might encourage amore active yet more transparent Chinese presence in other areas ofinternational security.



henry winn

Like everythingelse, when China committed to piracy fight in the Gulf it already had its eyesset on using that well publicized training opportunity to cover up much darkerexecution of South China Sea expansionist policy. As always, don't expect Chinato ever provide free service.




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