By Xinhua writer Yan Hao
BEIJING, Dec. 17 (Xinhua) -- A possible deployment of the Chinese Navy to fight piracy off Somalia has received overwhelming support from the country's domestic society.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei confirmed that the government is "seriously considering sending naval ships" to the waters in the near future when speaking at a ministerial meeting of the UN Security Council on Somali piracy in New York on Tuesday.
The official's remark was soon backed by researchers and netizens who also urged the government to send the fleet as soon as possible since a Chinese commercial ship was rescued after multi-national soldiers forced the retreat of pirates in the Gulf of Aden on Wednesday.
NAVAL EXERCISE AIMED AT TERROR
Although the vice foreign minister did not mention the Chinese Navy's recent activities, a maritime exercise implied that the military has been preparing for overseas deployment.
The Chinese Navy has just finished an anti-terror exercise in South China Sea waters with warships and helicopters "rescuing" hijacked cargo vessels.
Major-General Jin Yinan, a prominent Chinese military strategist with the National Defence University of the People's Liberation Army, said earlier this month that the actions of pirates in Somalia waters had brought the same consequence as terrorists' actions.
Many netizens worried that the fleet deployment could be a challenge to test the Chinese Navy force's long-range combat ability since China has no overseas military bases to provide logistic supplies.
However, Jin said no overseas bases was a problem, but the navy's supply ships are capable enough after many tests in global voyages.
PUBLIC SUPPORT TO DEPLOY FLEET
A suvey conducted by www.huanqiu.com showed that more than 14,124 netizens, 90 percent of the total online interviewees, voted yes to sending a pirate-fighting fleet to Somalia as of Tuesday evening.
"We fully support the government's decision and hope the fleet could be deployed as soon as possible since China is a responsible country which should take part in multinational peacekeeping in the region," said a netizen in a posting on huanqiu.com.
"It is very essential to secure a safe maritime route for Chinese petrochemical companies since their oil imports from Arab countries will mostly go through Somalia waters," another netizen named Zhenhua said on www.zzdnews.com.
Many netizens hailed the possible fleet by comparing it with Chinese historical naval expeditions sponsored by the Ming government between 1405 and 1433, during which the emperor's envoy Zheng He led the fleet to as far as East Africa.
If the fleet sailed, it would be the first overseas deployment of Chinese navy forces in its contemporary history. The likely fleet has drawn great enthusiasm from military reporters in Beijing who were trying to apply to be the fleet's correspondents.
SCHOLARS SUGGEST LEGAL WARRANTY
Sending an escort fleet to Somalia was justified for China as a permanent member of UN's Security Council, since many construction projects that China has invested in Africa were threatened, said Wang Weimin, an expert on international issues with Fudan University.
China could also gain long-range escorting experience for its naval forces for more overseas safeguarding missions in the future, he said, adding that the deployment would not go against China's foreign policy of non-interference in other nations' affairs.
Zhang Jiadong, a legal expert with the university said that according to international laws, China had a right to protect its interests in overseas waters as a victim in piracy cases.
Zhang quoted a UN adopted resolution which authorized countries to implement pirate-fighting activities with the permission of the Somali government, saying that China had already received an invitation from the Somali government for military deployment.
"It will be a milestone for the Chinese Navy since the fleet will embody the country's sovereignty," Zhang said.
Piracy along the Somalia coast has been a threat to international shipping since the area is one of the busiest marine channels in the world.
Several Chinese commercial ships, including fishing vessel Tianyu No.8, had been held by pirates in Somali waters since September this year, which has aroused concerns to send a fleet.
The Navy's own newspaper has published consecutive articles to clarify the legitimacy for the Navy to send an anti-pirate fleet to the area.
"Anti-pirate fleets in Somalia waters under international regulations would be a normal military mission for China as a responsible country", Guo Xiaobin, an expert with China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), was quoted as saying.
"China's international trade volume has been one of the largest in the world for years and the safety of global maritime transport has been of strategic importance," Guo said, adding that establishing the confidence of world shipping safety was essential amid the international financial crisis.
According to the International Maritime Organization, more than120 acts of piracy had occurred in Somali waters, involving more than 30 vessels and 600 crew members.
The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution in October calling on nations with vessels in the area to apply military force to repress piracy.
So far NATO has deployed seven warships in the region to serve as escorts and deter piracy and more countries are making expedition plans for the area. All the other permanent members of UN's Security Council apart from China have implemented actions in the multi-national effort.