HISTORY was made this week when the first Chinese naval vessel to venture beyond Pacific waters since the 15th century left port to join the international flotilla assembled in the Gulf of Aden to deter the pirates operating there. Already there are ships from India, Iran, Russia, the United States and the European Union but the Chinese presence will be one of the largest, consisting of a supply ship and two destroyers with helicopters, missiles, artillery, satellite communications and specially trained troops - a force in total of some 800.

The size of the Chinese participation in the international effort against piracy is a measure of the importance of the traffic of Chinese ships through these waters - 60 per cent of its crude oil from the Middle East and vast quantities of raw materials from Africa - totalling 1'265 vessels in the year just ending, of which seven have been attacked.

This deployment by China can be looked at in two ways - as a welcome opportunity to demonstrate how globalisation can bring together countries that would normally never cooperate in military matters or, more cautiously, as an opportunity for the Chinese to learn more than they would otherwise know about how Nato and EU naval forces collaborate and communicate with each other. Of course, by the same token, the Western navies will not overlook a unique chance to assess the Chinese presence and capabilities. On balance, the positive view should prevail.


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