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New naval challenges
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China's decision to send out a naval fleet to fight the pirates in Somali waters is nothing short of a historic step. It is not just the first of its kind; more significantly, it reflects the country's commitment to the cause of international peace and security.

If more proof were needed to show how China views itself as a responsible stakeholder in global affairs, this is it. And it also speaks of the country's confidence in itself.

For the Chinese navy, it will be a new challenge to conduct operations in the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden and Somali waters.

It will be the Chinese navy's debut in fighting sea piracy, an unconventional threat tough to tackle, thousands of miles away from home.

It is impossible to overestimate the challenges. It is difficult to identify pirates among thousands of ships sailing along the busy route. And they are far swifter at sea - it reportedly takes only 15 minutes for pirates to hijack a liner. The area is too vast for the just over a dozen warships already there - from NATO and other countries - to efficiently ply.

Yet it is imperative to deploy naval ships there. Pirates have carried out more than 120 attacks this year, one every three days, in the key shipping lanes. Among them, seven were Chinese ships. This poses a big threat to the security and safety of commercial ships and vessels shipping humanitarian relief and their personnel.

This mission will mean many things for the Chinese navy. It will test their strategy, especially on unconventional fronts. It will demand it to perform well in patrolling, locating and intercepting pirates. It will require the navy to effectively coordinate and cooperate with other navies in the area. The ships are self-sustaining, but if the mission needs to take longer, they will have to seek help from countries along the route for supply and cooperation.

The challenges, therefore, present a rare opportunity as well. The world has been relatively in peace for some time. However, it is confronted with many threats and uncertainties from non-traditional security sources in times of globalization.

Non-traditional threats to peace, such as terrorism, economic terrorism, drug trafficking and money laundering, have serious cross-border ramifications. The rampancy of piracy along the coast off Somalia demonstrates it is no longer enough for the military to keep threats away from home. It must take on oversea missions to safeguard Chinese as well as international shipping, trade and security.

The experience of the naval mission will prove invaluable for the Chinese military to be a capable guard of the nation's modernization drive, and to safeguard world peace and development as a responsible member of the international community.

Yet the ultimate solution to the piracy in the Somali waters is to remove its root causes. Parties concerned should work concertedly to restore order in the eastern African nation and help it strengthen its own capacity building.

(China Daily December 24, 2008)

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