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China floats idea of first overseas naval base

A member of the Chinese navy's special force on the deck of DDG-171 Haikou destroyer
China has a force of three ships patrolling the Gulf of Aden

A senior Chinese naval officer has suggested that China establish a permanent base in the Gulf of Aden to support its anti-piracy operations.

Rear Admiral Yin Zhou's proposal was posted on the defence ministry website.

Mr Yin said supplying and maintaining the fleet off Somalia was challenging without such a base, and said other nations were unlikely to object.

China's navy currently has no overseas bases, but there are calls in the media and web forums for this to change.

The proposal comes after a Chinese cargo ship and its crew of 25 were rescued from Somali pirates on Monday, amid reports that a $4m (£2.5m) ransom had been paid to their kidnappers.

'Appropriate'

The Chinese navy has already been patrolling the Gulf of Aden for more than a year, protecting cargo vessels that are increasingly threatened by pirates based in Somalia.

Yin Zhuo, a prominent spokesman on naval matters, made his suggestion to establish a permanent base in the area during a state radio interview on Tuesday. A transcript was later published on the defence ministry's website.

members of the Chinese navy during a ceremony in May 2009
The Chinese navy currently has no overseas bases

"I believe that a relatively stable, relatively solid base for resupply and repair would be appropriate," he said.

Such a base would provide a steady source of fresh food, along with facilities for communications, ship repair and recreation, Mr Yin added.

He offered no suggestion on where such a base should be located.

Any definite decision to establish such a base would have to be decided by the Communist Party, Mr Yin said.

Allaying foreign concern

Other countries have been closely monitoring China's international deployments for signs of increasing assertiveness in its foreign defence policy.

Beijing's leaders are sensitive to these concerns - and the first ships deployed in the Gulf spent more than four months at sea without docking.

"We didn't want to arouse unnecessary suspicion from some Western countries," Mr Yin explained.

"Gradually, everyone saw we are there to carry out legitimate international duties and we are helping ships from other countries as well," he said, adding that when his vessel finally docked at a French base, his crew were warmly welcomed.

Recently China has been working closely with the European Union, Nato and US anti-piracy coalitions, sharing information and now offering protection to ships from other countries.

According to BBC East Africa correspondent Will Ross, naval officials say they are pleased with what is an unusual show of international military cooperation.

Mr Yin said he believed other nations in the region would understand China's need for a naval supply base so that it could meet its international commitments.

The US and France already have bases in the region.

The Chinese navy has not been in this part if the world since the Ming Dynasty.

During the 15th Century, Chinese naval explorers reached the East African coast, visiting Mogadishu and Malindi, even taking back a giraffe and a zebra as souvenirs.

These days China is sending a lot more back home - such as African oil and minerals, which are vital for the country's economy.



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SEE ALSO
China has high naval ambitions
23 Apr 09 |  Asia-Pacific
China 'to increase naval power'
17 Apr 09 |  Asia-Pacific
China crew 'rescued' off Somalia
28 Dec 09 |  Asia-Pacific
Somali piracy: Global overview
27 Apr 09 |  Special Reports
China dips its toe in Gulf of Aden
18 Dec 08 |  Asia-Pacific

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