Global Insights: Chinese Navy Becomes Global Security Player

Global Insights: Chinese Navy Becomes Global Security Player

For the first time in modern history, the Chinese navy is deploying a task force on an active maritime mission beyond the Pacific Ocean that could involve combat operations. Beijing's unprecedented decision to join the anti-piracy fleet off Somalia's coast resulted from a pragmatic assessment of the likely net security benefits to China from the deployment. The international community, including the United States, should likewise approach the issue from a hardheaded perspective.

On Dec. 26, 2008, two destroyers and a supply ship of the South China Sea Fleet departed from the Yalong Bay naval base at Sanya, on Hainan Island, scheduled to arrive in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off Somalia on Jan. 6. The task force's declared mission is to inspect suspected pirate ships, assist vessels that come under pirate assault, and defend themselves if threatened. The anticipated duration of the initial deployment is three months, but any Chinese ship that withdraws could be replaced by another.

The task force, led by Rear Adm. Du Jingchen, chief of staff of the Navy's South China Sea Fleet, totals approximately 800 crew members. The destroyers carry the standard armaments of cannons and missiles. The flotilla also includes two helicopters that will provide aerial surveillance of potential threats, assist with delivering supplies among the ships, and engage in maritime search and rescue operations. The helicopters will also support the mission of the 70 Special Forces personnel aboard the destroyers, who have trained to board and inspect vessels and, if necessary, engage any pirates they encounter. The Special Forces unit is equipped only with light infantry weapons, and does not plan to engage in sustained ground operations.

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