Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Talks of a PLAN Overseas Naval Base.

As posted on the Chinese defense ministry website, the Chinese PLAN is floating the idea of an overseas naval base to support its anti-pirate mission in the Gulf of Aden. The lack of an overseas naval base caused hardships and supply problems during the PLAN’s first anti-pirate tour where the Chinese flotilla made no port call in over four months.

While the English report did not specify where the PLAN might setup a this base, the Chinese source mentioned Djibouti as a possible candidate as suggested by Rear Admiral Yin Zhou during a recent interview. (here) It is no coincidence that the Djibouti Minister of Foreign Affairs is visiting China today to "push forward friendly cooperation in various sectors and advance bilateral relations into a new level." (here)

Back on December 12, 2008, the PLAN first publicly acknowledged that they were "debating" a possible anti-pirate mission to the Gulf of Aden, (here) and their first flotilla was already gearing up for the tour. During that debate, Professor Jin Canrong of Renmin University told China Daily that “sending naval vessels to the waters off Somalia may raise some concerns and provide ammunition to the ‘China threat’ demagogues." One year later, the Chinese anti-pirate mission to the Gulf of Aden has generally been well-received. How the world will react to an overseas PLAN naval base in Djibouti is largely dependent on what type of base it will be. Will it be a simple supply depot or one with full faculty, armed guards and C3I?

All your base are belong to me.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (R) meets with Djibouti Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Mahamoud Ali Youssouf in Beijing, Dec. 29, 2009. (Xinhua/Liu Weibing)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009; 3:02 AM

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese rear admiral has urged the nation to set up navy supply bases overseas in an interview posted on the Ministry of Defense website after China paid ransom to free a ship held for nine weeks by Somali pirates.

China has operated patrols for a year now in the narrow Gulf of Aden, escorting Chinese and foreign ships through waters menaced by pirates operating off the Somali coast.

But coal and ore shipping lanes off the east coast of Africa have proved harder to defend. The De Xin Hai, captured 700 nautical miles east of Somalia in October, was ransomed for $4 million on Sunday.

Reflecting on the hardships endured by the Chinese patrol ships in the anti-piracy effort, Rear Admiral Yin Zhou floated the idea of bases abroad to support the vessels. (

"This is entirely a matter for the country's foreign policy circles, but I feel that would be appropriate if we could have a relatively stable, fixed base for supplies and maintenance," said Yin, who is director of an advisory committee for the Chinese navy's drive to upgrade information technology.

"I think countries near any relatively long-term supply bases established by China, and other countries participating in the escort mission, could understand," he said, adding that would be more affordable than re-supplying via ship on the high seas.

Asian neighbors have been monitoring China's international deployments for signs of the country's rising global status translating into a more assertive foreign policy and presence.

China has never renounced the use of force to bring self-ruled and democratic Taiwan, which it considers sovereign territory, under its rule, and increased Chinese military activity around a series of disputed atolls and rocks in the South China Sea has worried Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines, which have their own territorial claims.

The Chinese navy did not call at any port during the four months of its first mission to the waters off Somalia, creating problems with straining supplies, medical care and homesickness for sailors unable to communicate with their families, the interview and other media reports have noted.

The anti-piracy mission off Somalia has been the first such long-distance projection of Chinese naval power since the Ming dynasty, 600 years ago.

Chinese ships communicated with ships operating under a multi-national anti-piracy task force in the Gulf of Aden, but did not formally cooperate with them. The deputy commander of the Combined Maritime Forces, Commodore Tim Lowe, suggested China could co-lead the grouping next year.

Yin did not suggest where the base would be. But the China Daily on Tuesday ran an interview with the Somali ambassador to China, asking for international assistance in building a coast guard.

(Reporting by Lucy Hornby; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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