Page last updated at 11:03 GMT, Friday, 29 January 2010

China anti-piracy role in Somalia welcomed

By Vaudine England
BBC News, Hong Kong

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

China's agreement to take on a larger role in the international naval operation to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia has been widely welcomed.

China has until now focused on protecting its own ships in the area.

But Beijing says it will now join the naval forces of the US, Nato and the European Union in the Shared Awareness and Deconfliction (Shade) group.

This shows a willingness to take on some of the responsibilities linked to becoming a world power, analysts said.

Stepping up

"China has been reticent and slow to evolve an international role, but this is a positive step up of China as a responsible stake-holder," said Carl Thayer, professor of politics at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) in Canberra, Australia.

"China has only been engaged in protecting its own ships and has not wanted to board other ships but it seem to realise that with power comes responsibility," he added.

Royal Navy lookout escorting food ship off Somalia, 2009
The EU force's main aim is to protect vulnerable ships holding food and aid

Analysts said China had long let other world powers "do the heavy lifting" on major international issues, but was increasingly taking part in international peacekeeping operations.

"Anyone involved in world trade has got to protect those routes," Prof Thayer said of the corridor through the Gulf of Aden.

Tim Huxley, CEO of Wah Kwong Shipping, a major Hong Kong-based shipowner whose ships have evaded piracy attacks in the area, also welcomed China's greater participation in the anti-piracy patrols.

"Seaborne trade is vital to China's continued economic growth and with several Chinese-controlled ships having been subject to piracy attacks, it has to be welcomed that China is playing an increasingly significant role in what is in effect an international peacekeeping task force," said Mr Huxley.

Building trust

The US, Nato and EU forces to be joined by China protect a shipping corridor in the western Indian Ocean where pirate attacks are most frequent.

Members of the international naval task force say that although attacks there have increased, fewer have been successful.

China's new role will include taking on the rotating chairmanship of the naval task force that coordinates patrols.

As China rises, it needs to take a bigger role in ensuring global peace and stability
South China Morning Post editorial

But contrary to Chinese media reports this is not a central or leadership role, analysts said.

China is believed to be interested in raising its participation in the anti-piracy drive partly because one of its ships was hijacked last October.

The De Xin Hai bulk carrier was reportedly freed in late December amid reports of a possible ransom payment.

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper reported that China had been lobbying for the expanded role for months.

In an editorial, the newspaper said China would "show its worth as a global player".

"As China rises, it needs to take a bigger role in ensuring global peace and stability," the newspaper said.

Noting the concern, even alarm, among some of China's neighbours at the country's growth as a maritime power, it said China's participation in the anti-piracy effort would help increase trust.

Analysts said the anti-piracy work should not cause concern about China's growing might.

"China won't be able to project naval power for 20 or 30 years. There might be other areas of concern, but not here," said Prof Thayer.

South East Asian countries and China are rival claimants to islands and atolls across the South China Sea, and China's growing might and extended naval reach are being watched closely.

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