China is all set to send a naval fleet on a mission to fight pirates in Somali waters, a military source told China Daily on Tuesday.
In this photograph released by the Indian Navy, Indian Marine Commandos board a suspected pirate ship as its surrendering crew (L) hold their hands above their heads in the Gulf of Aden on December 13, 2008. The UN Security Council on Tuesday unanimously adopted a new US resolution authorizing for one year international operations against pirates inside Somalia.[Agencies]
"There will be a significant peacekeeping operation (in Somalia)," the source said, but did not reveal the scale of the mission.
China will tell a United Nations Security Council meeting this morning (Beijing time) that "we wish to work with others to reach a positive outcome", a Foreign Ministry spokesman said yesterday, without confirming the status of the mission.
"The Chinese government supports the international community's decision to cooperate on the piracy problem according to international law and the UN Security Council's resolutions," Liu Jianchao told a news briefing on Tuesday, referring to Vice-Foreign Minister He Yafei's meeting in New York.
A local newspaper provided some details of the planned mission.
"The fleet will leave the South China Sea and head to the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters," the Global Times reported yesterday.
A Chinese journalist who is likely to accompany the naval fleet said the operation would last three months.
Piracy off Somalia has intensified in recent months, with more attacks against a wider range of targets. But the problem is the most severe in the Gulf of Aden, which links the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean.
Two Chinese ships - a fishing vessel and a Hong Kong-flag ship together with about 40 crew - were seized by Somali pirates in mid-November.
In September, pirates seized a Ukrainian freighter loaded with 33 battle tanks, and on Nov 15 they seized a Saudi oil tanker then carrying $100 million worth of crude.
About 100 attacks have been reported off the Somali coast this year. Forty vessels have been hijacked, with 14 still remaining in the hands of pirates along with more than 250 crew members, according to maritime officials.
The international community has already responded to the piracy problem, with the UN clearing the way for sending troops to the troubled waters by passing three resolutions since July.
More than a dozen warships from Italy, Greece, Turkey, India, Denmark, Saudi Arabia, France, Russia, Britain, Malaysia and the United States have so far joined the hunt, leaving China the only country among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council not yet taking an active part.
A military strategist told China Daily that joining other countries to fight Somali pirates would be a "very good opportunity" for the Chinese navy to get into the thick of the action.
"Apart from fighting pirates, another key goal is to register the presence of the Chinese navy," Prof Li Jie, a naval researcher, told China Daily.
China has never dispatched any troops on combat missions overseas. But in 2002, two Chinese vessels - a destroyer and a supplier - spent four months on a global tour, the country's first.
Li also would not confirm the mission but added that "if the navy's special forces join in, that will be in order to counter the pirates' attempt to board other ships".
"In general, the mission is to deter pirates, because that is the basic objective," he added.
Prof Pang Zhongying at Renmin University of China said "joining other fleets in the Somali waters will contribute to international security".
Earlier, Chinese army personnel joining UN peacekeeping missions were engineering and medical staff, police, or peacekeepers.
But now, dispatching naval ships would not be a problem as the menace of Somali piracy has become a common threat to the whole international community, Pang said.
"China's image as a responsible sovereign nation will improve by participating in such missions," he said, but noted he didn't expect the number of troops in any such mission would be high.
"It would be on a limited scale initially," Pang said.
Special maritime police
In Vienna, a UN official said on Tuesday that special maritime police should patrol the Horn of Africa coastline to arrest the Somali pirates who have been preying on commercial shipping.
"Pirates cannot be keelhauled or forced to walk the plank, nor should they be dumped off the Somali coast. They need to be brought to justice," said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Costa urged law enforcement officers to be deployed on warships as "ship riders" to seize pirates and try them under appropriate legal jurisdiction.
A similar approach has helped prosecute drug traffickers in the Caribbean, he said.
Somalia welcomes Chinese naval presence
Somalia welcomes the presence of the Chinese navy to fight pirates in its waters, the ambassador of the African nation in Beijing has said.
"We hope China joins the efforts of the international community in supporting the Somali government," Mohammed Awil said on Monday, responding to media reports that China could dispatch a fleet to the Gulf of Aden, where most of the piracy attacks have been concentrated.
Since July, the United Nations has adopted three resolutions urging the international community to respond to the piracy menace off the Somalia coast.
On Monday, a French naval detachment is reported to have begun escort duties in the troubled Indian Ocean waters off the Somali coast as part of an EU anti-piracy naval operation.
But Awil said the presence of foreign naval missions is not a long-term solution, and sought international help for Somalia to build its own naval capability.
"The international community should help our government build up the Somali navy, and then our own navy will take the responsibility of safeguarding Somali waters," Awil told China Daily.
He said his country has a naval presence in the northeast of the country, but it is hamstrung by old ships which are no match for the hit-and-run tactics of the pirates.
"So the solution is capacity building (for the Somali navy)," he said, urging help in logistics, equipment and training.
Apart from problems at sea, the Somali ambassador, who has been in Beijing since 2005, urged the global community to offer "serious help" to counter Somalia's domestic chaos.
A civil war which broke out in 1991 has left large swathes of the country under the control of anti-government forces. But the domestic situation may get even worse, as roughly 3,000 Ethiopian peacekeepers are due to withdraw by the end of the year, leaving a security vacuum.
Awil said it was the responsibility of the international community to send peacekeepers to fill the vacuum.
"The government has again and again requested the international community to send peacekeeping troops," Awil said, adding he didn't know why "they are not taking on the responsibility".
He said the world may regret it one day as extremism has already taken root in Somalia.
"Now it is piracy; we don't know what will come next," Awil said.
Agencies contributed to the story