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Peacekeeping, anti-piracy operations aren't muscle flexing, experts say

By ZHANG ZHIHAO | China Daily | Updated: 2018-12-14 07:09

The 24th fleet from the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy leave for the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia, on Aug 10, 2016. [Photo/IC]

The Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy's tackling of maritime piracy in the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia is not intended to control strategic international waterways or project its military power overseas, military experts said on Thursday.

On Sunday, the PLA Navy dispatched a naval escort task force from the port city of Zhanjiang, Guangdong province, to the Gulf of Aden and waters off the Horn of Africa, according to Xinhua News Agency.

The convoy consists of missile frigate Xuchang, amphibious transport dock Kunlunshan and supply ship Luomahu. It also includes more than 700 personnel, three helicopters and dozens of special task forces.

Dec 26 marks the 10th anniversary of the PLA Navy's first escort mission in the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia. Over the past 10 years, China has sent more than 100 ships and 26,000 personnel to the region, said Senior Colonel Liang Fang, a PLA National Defense University professor.

The PLA Navy has helped escort around 6,600 vessels, half of which were foreign owned or carrying cargo for the United Nations World Food Programme, Liang said. In 2017, only 4 percent of global pirate attacks occurred in the area where Chinese naval escorts were present-a significant decrease compared to the 48 percent seen in 2009, she added.

Apart from curtailing piracy, the PLA Navy has also carried out other missions, including the evacuation of Chinese nationals from war zones in Libya in 2011 and Yemen in 2015, search and rescue operations for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, and potable water shipments to the Maldives during a water crisis in late 2014, she said.

However, while many nations praised the PLA Navy's efforts, some perceive its foreign operations as flexing its military muscle overseas, especially with the recent growth in China's naval capability and the opening of the country's first overseas logistical base in Djibouti last year.

"These notions are biased, show a lack of trust and are unfriendly toward the PLA," Liang said. "We are not trying to take control of strategic waterways via escort missions, nor do we seek hegemony, military expansion or a meddling in other nations' domestic affairs."

Liang said the Djibouti base provides vital logistical support for the PLA Navy to effectively carry out escort missions in the area. Its purpose is fundamentally different from a military base, which aims to project military influence with substantial military hardware.

Major General Meng Xiangqing, a professor of national security at PLA National Defense University, said China pursues a military policy which is defensive in nature, and its military presence overseas does not pose a threat to other parties.

"The Chinese military is a force for world peace, and aims to provide security-related goods and services to benefit the public and the world," he said.

Italian Navy Lieutenant Colonel Massimo Tiberi said he is glad to see that China is increasing its efforts to join the international community and tackle global challenges such as peacekeeping and maritime piracy.

"Countries that provide troops and goods for these missions are accepting a level of risk and endangering their uniformed personnel to make the world a better place," he said. "It takes effort from everyone to tackle piracy and contribute to international maritime security, and a strong China can only help deter and counter these issues."

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