On December 26th, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy will mark its 10th anniversary deployment in the Gulf of Aden, waters off war-torn Somalia, to fight piracy. According to China Military more than 100 ships and 26,000 soldiers have been dispatched since the start of the anti-piracy mission in 2008.
Over the years, analysts have described China’s anti-piracy deployment, coupled with its increasing participation in United Nations peace operations, as a shift in Chinese foreign policy behaviour toward increased willingness to employ PLA forces in military operations other than war to secure Chinese interests in regions distant from the Chinese mainland. Beijing took up the mission primarily to ensure the safety of Chinese ships and crews transiting through the pirate-infested region.
According to sources, more than 1200 Chinese ships and forty per cent of all goods and raw materials bound for China pass through the Gulf of Aden each year. Moreover, the pirate-infested waters off the Coast of Somalia are a critical sea lane of communication for China, in other words, a lack of maritime security could disrupt trade critical to China’s economic development.
Besides, Africa is an important strategic area for China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Experts say the region has the fastest growth of China’s foreign investment and trade. According to Defence Aerospace, China’s initial aim to participate in escort missions was to gain ‘blue water experience’. China’s deployment has also helped the World Food Program’s humanitarian shipping. And China has also proved to be a reliable partner.
However, a senior research fellow at the Australian National University David Brewster said China was rapidly building up its military capabilities across the Indo-Pacific region, including in the Indian Ocean because it was only interested in protecting its strategic interests. “Chinese officials may try to claim that their armed forces are not there to assert China’s interests, but no one believes them,” Brewster said China has been actively interfering in the internal affairs of many countries in the region.
And to some extent its true as China has been quite vocally trying to spread its wings.