Beijing is considering sending warships to tackle piracy off the coast of Somalia. The decision will worry those who are nervous about the rise of China. Such concerns are not only groundless, but also ignore the realities of the 21st century. Although the nation has long kept a low military profile, China's increasing economic might has endowed it with global responsibilities. As pirates tried to snatch another Chinese vessel yesterday, Beijing's duty is evident: to protect Chinese nationals and interests, while helping to curb the menace of piracy. China has not sent naval vessels into a combat situation so far from home since the 1400s, when the great mariner Admiral Zheng He headed a fleet to Africa. Should the decision be taken for warships to escort Chinese shipping in the waters off Somalia, there is a high probability of conflict. Well-armed Somali pirates have built a lucrative business seizing ships for ransom in the busy sea lanes of the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. They have become ever bolder with their tactics and correspondingly ambitious with targets and demands. More than 100 vessels, including two Chinese ships, have been taken so far this year, most audaciously last month when a giant oil tanker was snatched hundreds of nautical miles offshore. Pirates cannot be a law unto themselves. Their attacks are choking the main trade route between Europe and Asia. Humanitarian operations to Africa are being hampered. Peace, security and lives are threatened. There is no easy solution. Commercial vessels need to be better prepared to protect themselves. European and American naval vessels have for several months been policing the sea channels, but there are far too many ships and not enough military resources to do the job properly. The UN Security Council toughened the action on Tuesday, adopting a resolution that permits nations and regional groupings - with the consent of Somalia's provisional government - to 'take all necessary measures that are appropriate' to deter piracy. Ultimately, though, it is Somali statelessness that has to be dealt with, and this is a matter that governments in the midst of a financial crisis are unwilling to take on. In the circumstances, there can be no argument about China sending its navy to protect Chinese interests; no other nation can or should do this job. It is the nation's right. Should this be Beijing's eventual decision, Chinese effort should be welcomed, not questioned. China maintains a policy of not being too assertive internationally. But the nation is becoming an ever more important player on the world stage and needs to be less worried about how it is perceived. For several years, China has contributed to UN peacekeeping forces. Apart from ensuring the safety of our ships, the nation should also join multinational efforts to ensure peace at sea by helping keep pirates at bay.