What is China's Role in Counter-Piracy?
China is a nation on the verge of becoming a superpower if it is not already one - you will get different answers depending on who you ask. The country has always shown an interest in counter-piracy operations since Somali piracy was rampant in the late 2000s, which some commentators have disregarded as an attempt to expand their power and influence worldwide. This article will explore what motivates China to take such action and how much maritime piracy affects it.
It is undeniable that China has a massive stake in the global maritime trade. For example, China is the largest source of seafarers in the world with over 120,000 on international vessels in 2020. Moreover, 60% of its trade value is by sea.
With these two facts alone, it would be enough to understand that piracy could disrupt China's economy and citizens, which is why the government would take steps against it. However, piracy hotspots disproportionally affect Chinese interests. Around 1,200 Chinese-flagged ships pass through the Gulf of Aden annually, with over 40% of raw goods heading for China passing through these waters. In addition, over 70% of LNG and petroleum exports pass through the Malacca Strait heading for China. Therefore, pirates have a chance to disrupt China's worldwide maritime economy.
"China is the largest source of seafarers in the world with over 120,000 on international vessels in 2020. Moreover, 60% of its trade value is by sea"
China has been involved in counter-piracy operations in Somalia and the Gulf of Aden. These started in December 2008 after the previous month saw two Chinese ships captured with multiple Chinese crew being taken, hostage. These counter-piracy patrols continue until today. China also launched its first joint operations to tackle piracy with navies in Nigeria and Cameroon in early 2015 to help provide security in the region along with $100 million in funding for African countries.
China continues this aid today, donating equipment such as patrol boats to Gulf of Guinea nations to help them to fight piracy. As for the Malacca and Singapore Straits, China has offered help to the littoral states in terms of security cooperation and training along with other major user nations such as the United States and Australia. However, due to the effects of international law and the desire for sovereignty, the littoral states have been reluctant to accept help from other nations.
Whilst it is clear China is interested in protecting its interests around the globe, given its reliance on maritime trade, other countries have noted caution regarding China's actions. For example, given the expansion of Chinese companies in Africa, some commentators have argued that the development of Chinese bases in Djibouti and proposed bases in the Gulf of Guinea, like Equatorial Guinea, equate to neo-colonialism rather than the protection of worldwide industries.
"China also launched its first joint operations to tackle piracy with navies in Nigeria and Cameroon in early 2015 to help provide security in the region along with $100 million in funding for African countries"
India is a nation which has a deep fear over China's counter-piracy patrols, noting that they have used submarines which are not fit for such a purpose. They argue that China is using these operations as a front to cover for their outward expansion past the South-China Sea.
Given its imports and exports market, China has a vested interest in protecting maritime trade worldwide. However, actions can have more than one meaning and if the expansion of a security apparatus can have a positive effect on their attempt to project power globally, then that is a plus. This benefit may become more apparent if piracy continues to decrease and China does not move from its continued operations.
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