Saturday 09 Oct 2021 | 23:35 | SYDNEY
Saturday 09 Oct 2021 | 23:35 | SYDNEY

Somali pirates and China shores of Tripoli


Rory Medcalf


18 December 2008 12:31

China, it appears, is about to embark on its first operational naval deployment beyond the Western Pacific since the 15th century. It was only a matter of time before Beijing started projecting force beyond its immediate region to protect its global interests. The pirates of Somalia have hastened that day by several years at least.

The tame Chinese press is already reporting that the Somali Government (or what passes for one) would welcome a Chinese naval presence. This suggests Beijing is not just ‘seriously considering’ a mission – as its officials claim – but has already made up its mind to send warships to the Gulf of Aden.

It will be fascinating to see the reactions from the US, India and others more accustomed to plying Indian Ocean waters. How they accommodate a Chinese deployment, and how transparently China seeks to work with them, will provide useful early clues about whether there is much hope for a cooperative international approach to maritime security that includes a rising China.

Just over two hundred years ago, the young United States of America’s maritime war with the Barbary pirates ('to the shores of Tripoli', as the US Marines still sing) marked an important step in the rise of the US as a great power. If Somali pirate attacks on Chinese nationals and Chinese cargoes prompt the PLA Navy to make its presence felt in the Indian Ocean, we could be seeing an equally profound moment in history.