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CHINAFRICA
Securing the Sea Lanes
China’s participation in the anti-piracy missions shows the country is fulfilling its global responsibilities

A soldier of the 36th Chinese naval escort taskforce rappels from a helicopter during a drill in the Gulf of Aden on 26 October 2020 (CNS)

By Mahasha Rampedi
February 2024

Some people, mainly in the West, were taken by surprise when six Chinese warships were seen near the Red Sea in October 2023 amid the conflict in Gaza. Some Western media and politicians tried to frame China’s mission as an escalatory move in the Middle East. However, according to Chinese media, the ships are part of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s escort taskforce responsible for safeguarding commercial vessels and fighting piracy.

As the conflict between Israel and Hamas is escalating, China’s PLA Navy fleets are completing their escort missions in the Gulf of Aden in a perfect order.

Rising security risks

The Red Sea is an important international shipping lane. It accounts for up to 15 percent of the global supply chain, including oil tankers and container ships transporting various goods.

Following the Houthi attacks, some international shipping companies avoided the Red Sea or rerouted their ships across Africa, which increased their travel time by at least 11 days.

The move increased shipping and insurance costs by about 50 percent. The costs are likely to be felt by the consumers of the goods being transported across the world.

The point the Western media and politicians in question appear to miss or ignore is that China has been involved in the UN approved international escort missions for the past 15 years. Since 2008, China has been actively involved in the UN escort mission in the Gulf of Aden primarily through its participation in international anti-piracy efforts. The Gulf of Aden, situated near the southern entrance to the Red Sea, has been a hotspot of piracy.

The PLA Navy has regularly contributed warships, including destroyers and frigates, to protect Chinese and international vessels from pirate attacks. Since 2008, the PLA Navy has dispatched 45 fleets, with more than 150 vessels and over 35,000 soldiers, and completed over 1,600 escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off Somalia. The 1,600 missions included more than 7,200 Chinese and foreign vessels, including 12 vessels from the World Food Programme.

The UN Security Council has authorised international naval forces to conduct anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and along the coast of Somalia under various resolutions, such as Resolution 1816 (2008) and Resolution 2226 (2015).

Sharing responsibility

China’s participation in these operations serves multiple purposes. Of course, safeguarding Chinese merchant vessels, which transport a significant portion of China’s energy and trade goods through these vital sea lanes, is a primary concern. However, China also sees the missions as a global responsibility.

Contributing to international security efforts shows that China is a responsible global actor committed to combating piracy and ensuring maritime safety. Participation in these missions also provides the PLA Navy with valuable experience in long-distance operations, joint exercises and cooperation with other naval forces.

China’s involvement in the Gulf of Aden escort mission reflects its increasing global maritime interests and its recognition of the importance of maintaining stability in key international shipping lanes. In this case, it’s a win-win situation.

In this regard, China is actively implementing its international responsibilities in safeguarding key maritime corridors, thus ensuring international and regional peace and stability.

The author is Editor-in-Chief of African Times, Johannesburg, South Africa


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