Friday 15 Oct 2021 | 01:11 | SYDNEY
Friday 15 Oct 2021 | 01:11 | SYDNEY

Positive spinoffs from piracy


Rory Medcalf


27 January 2010 16:51

An intriguing session at the Seapower 2010 conference in Sydney today involved Chinese and Japanese admirals giving their national perspectives on counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. A promising topic, though alas, they left a lot unsaid. Then again, perhaps that was for the best. If China-Japan security relations can always be as cordial as the public camaraderie of these two sailors – lots of on-stage quips and handshakes – then Asia's future will be peaceful and prosperous. Admittedly, that is a rather large if.

Anyway, I was struck by the slickness and confidence of PLAN Rear Admiral Xiao Xinnian's presentation about Beijing's use of special forces in its anti-piracy patrols off Somalia. He emphasised the fact that these commandos are often placed as guards onboard Chinese merchant vessels for the transit of the Gulf of Aden. What he did not say is whether they have actually done any shooting. It is widely believed that they haven't. So far, for all the big talk, Beijing has been seriously wary about using force as an alternative to paying ransoms. 

Rear Admiral Xiao said positive things about the level of communication and information-sharing between the PLAN and other navies in the counter-piracy patrols, but was less forthcoming when I asked him what lessons China might draw from this for the prevention of incidents-at-sea in East Asia.

Japan's Rear Admiral Izuru Fukumoto, meanwhile, said that 'rule sharing' and confidence-building measures were indeed a positive spinoff from the anti-piracy patrols, noting that the Chinese navy had escorted ships with Japan-bound cargoes and vice versa. Not surprisingly, he did not place much emphasis on the possibility that Japan would have to use force against pirates – instead underlining the presence of Japanese coast guard officers on board Tokyo's destroyers in order to handle arrests which, by law, Japanese military personnel are forbidden from making. 

But his comments still had an undercurrent of national interest. He may not have said it explicitly, but clearly the JMSDF is becoming increasingly experienced and confident at protecting the distant sealanes on which Japan's economy depends.

Photo by Flickr user U.S. Coast Guard, used under a Creative Commons license.