PLA joins forces with rival navies for piracy patrols
The Chinese navy plans to co-operate with its counterparts from India and Japan during escort missions this year in the pirate-infested waters of the western Indian Ocean, the Defence Ministry said yesterday.
Ministry spokesman Senior Colonel Geng Yansheng told a regular briefing that China and other escort fleets had agreed to come up with quarterly schedules to integrate their naval patrols around the piracy hotbed of Somalia.
'The strengthened co-ordination and co-operation could increase the efficiency of escort operations and better safeguard international navigation safety,' Geng said, according to Xinhua.
The schedule-making process would be led each quarter by one reference country, starting with China. The other countries involved in the operation would formulate their own schedules according to China's.
Naval experts said it was the first time that China, India and Japan, three of Asia's top military powers, had formally co-operated with each other in the anti-piracy mission, with the navy of People's Liberation Army (PLAN) likely to play a leading role.
'The PLAN is playing a relatively leading role under the new co-ordination mechanism because it was originally proposed by Beijing,' said Senior Colonel Li Jie of China's Naval Academy.
He said common interests motivated the three countries to share their naval resources despite their continuing territory disputes.
'Somali waters are a key sea route for oil tankers and China and Japan are among the world's top oil importers ... while New Delhi's demand for energy is increasing year after year amid rapid economic growth.'
The PLA has maintained a revolving three-ship deployment off the Horn of Africa since late 2008 - its first foray into a conflict zone beyond its home waters in centuries. They run their own convoys, communicating with, but not under the control of, larger international flotillas.
China had until now mainly escorted convoys of Chinese ships in waters close to Somalia.
'Such escorts have used up too much manpower and material resources for all independent navies,' Li said. 'That's why so many countries are agreeing to co-operate with each other.'
Ni Lexiong, an expert on maritime policy at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said the anti-piracy escort agreement between the three countries would promote peaceful development among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
'Anti-piracy co-ordination and co-operation needs them to share and exchange military information, which will help them to ease their suspicions,' Ni said.
'It will establish a good image for the three military giants among Asean states, showing that they are also peace-loving countries and offsetting their current territorial confrontations.'