PLA Navy's 14 years of missions in blue waters safeguard intl trade routes, win more overseas recognition
World peace convoy
Published: Aug 01, 2022 08:55 PM
The Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy 35th escort task force transfers replenishments at sea on May 3, 2020. Photo: Courtesy of Zhong Kuirun

The Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy 35th escort task force transfers replenishments at sea on May 3, 2020. Photo: Courtesy of Zhong Kuirun

This year marks the 95th founding anniversary of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), which emerged from the flames of war, fought against various powerful opponents, and triumphed. State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe pointed out in his speech at the 19th Shangri-La Dialogue that the Chinese people who have endured countless hardships love and cherish peace more than anyone else. China firmly safeguards world peace and stability, with "a total of 41 task forces of more than 120 vessels having escorted more than 7,000 Chinese and foreign ships. The development of the Chinese armed forces always contributes to the growth of a push toward world peace." 

The Global Times recently interviewed sailors who took part in the escort missions and had them elaborate how the PLA Navy proves with its actions that the Chinese armed forces are creators, defenders, and contributors to a community with a shared future for mankind and a maritime community with a shared future.

Naval ships reach wherever national interests go

In 2008, the escalation of pirate activities in the waters off Somalia seriously threatened the safety of navigation. Based on the arrangements of the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council and at the request of the Somali transitional government, China dispatched the first escort task force to the Gulf of Aden and the waters off Somalia on December 26 of that year to carry out escort missions, which opened a new journey for the PLA Navy in regular deployment in the far seas and the carrying out of its duties.

The Gulf of Aden is the choke point for vessels sailing from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, experts said. Each year, China has more than 1,000 merchant ships that sail through the Gulf of Aden and transit through the Suez Canal to reach Europe. At the same time as the escort missions provide public security goods to the international community, they also serve to better safeguard China's own interests.

Zhang Shengjie, captain of the Changsha, a Type 052D destroyer, recalled that he was in the 37th escort task force from January to June 2021. On April 23, the Navy's founding anniversary, the Changsha and Honghu, a Type 903A comprehensive supply ship, escorted five Chinese fishing boats to their destinations. "When we met with the fleet to be escorted, one of the merchant ships in the fleet hung up banners saying 'Thank you to the People's Navy for the escort' and '[We are] Proud of the Chinese Navy.' I felt unparalleled pride then, for being able to escort ships from the motherland in the Gulf of Aden. I really feel the profound meaning of effectively defending the motherland and its people's security interests."

Zhang said the PLA Navy escort task forces respond to all the escort needs of Chinese and foreign ships, as they do their best to ensure the safety of the escorted ships and provide medical aid and the repair of equipment as much as possible, effectively safeguarding the safety of passage in international waterways.

Provider of public security goods 

By June 2022, China has dispatched 41 escort task forces to the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia. They have completed escort missions for more than 7,000 Chinese and foreign ships in 1,500 flotillas, the Xinhua News Agency reported. Such operations have made important contributions to the security of key international trade routes and efforts to sustain world peace and stability.

In March 2014, the Type 052C destroyer Changchun set out to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines passenger plane in the Indian Ocean, after which it headed toward the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia as part of the 17th escort task force. At the time, the Changchun had been commissioned for just a year.

Zhao Lei, the incumbent captain of the Changchun, said that the escort mission lasted for more than 200 days, and a total of 43 batches of 115 Chinese and foreign ships were escorted, and special escorts were carried out on behalf of 17 ships. "During the escort mission, we escorted a World Food Program ship and participated in the rescue efforts of an Italian merchant ship which caught fire."

With efficient escort approaches, a responsible attitude, and effective skills, the Chinese Navy has gradually become a trustworthy force of peace in the nearby waters and the local region. An increasing number of foreign merchant ships have begun to actively seek protection from the Chinese Navy. 

Shao Jianpeng, captain of the Type 054A frigate Binzhou who participated in the 29th escort task force, said that during the escort, the Chinese escort task force was flexible and efficient, and adopted approaches including accompanying and regional escort, as well as emergency and extended escort, which sufficiently ensured the navigation safety of merchant ships in the Gulf of Aden.

The PLA Navy's 14 consecutive years of escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia are not only for the safeguarding of China's overseas interests, but also for the contribution to safeguarding world peace and regional stability, as well as the promotion of international exchanges. "With China's economic development, the country has many more overseas interests, and the People's Armed Forces are required to go out to safeguard said interests. At the same time, the Chinese Navy has continued to grow and become increasingly influential. When practicing the concept of a maritime community with a shared future, we have played an increasingly important role. During escort missions, we actively communicate with foreign ships, and through the development of military cooperation, we carry out extensive international military and security cooperation," Shao said.

The Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy 35th escort task force holds special training on courses including anti-piracy and ship rescue on May 2, 2020. Photo: Courtesy of Zhong Kuirun

The Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy 35th escort task force holds special training on courses including anti-piracy and ship rescue on May 2, 2020. Photo: Courtesy of Zhong Kuirun

PLA gets more friends

As a military service of a diplomatic nature, the Chinese Navy has always been active on the international naval stage. The Chinese warships' voyages in the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia have become a window through which the international community has gotten to know China.

Over the past 14 years, the PLA Navy escort task forces have established information sharing mechanisms and commander meeting systems with ships or flotillas from many countries, and carried out joint escorts and drills involving training courses  not just limited to joint search and rescue, anti-piracy, anti-terrorism, sea passage security defense, and humanitarian aid, which are of non-traditional security characteristic, but also those of traditional security characteristics such as anti-submarine, air defense, anti-ship, and amphibious landing.

After an escort task force completes an escort mission in the Gulf of Aden, it usually conducts a two-month foreign visit, during which it will conduct joint exercises with foreign navies. Through this way, the PLA Navy displays its image of being a civilized and peaceful force.

The exchanges between escort task forces and other countries' navies have allowed the PLA Navy to get more friends, and have also enabled the international community to better understand the Chinese Navy's determination and vision to develop peacefully and safeguard peace. Zhao said that during their exchanges, foreign navies generally acknowledge the important role the Chinese Navy has played in maintaining maritime security, and they also speak highly of the good relationships of openness, mutual trust, and cooperation they have with the Chinese escort task forces.

Witnessing Navy's growth

When Zhang once again arrived in the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia in 2021, he was filled with emotions: This vast sea area can be described as a witness to the growth of the Chinese Navy, as it has seen the extraordinary achievements of the PLA Navy in the past decade or so.

"In 2008, I participated in the first escort operations as a team leader only two years after graduating. Back then, there were less than 10 ships in the entire fleet, not to mention a detachment, that were capable of carrying out such a mission." Zhang said. The uncertainties including unfamiliar waterways, complex sea conditions, and how to successfully complete the task all made sailors feel uneasy.

Thirteen years later, as a ship captain, Zhang led his ship to sail in this sea again, this time with confidence. We had only a handful of new-type warships for the first escort mission. Now we have the advanced Type 052D and Type 055 guided missile destroyers that have consecutively entered service. Domestically built aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships are also joining the PLA Navy's combat sequence one after another, gradually forming operational capabilities with new-type combat capabilities developing at an accelerated rate. The maritime and aerial forces participating in the escort missions have also undergone great changes." Zhang said. "The equipment of the PLA Navy has also been tested in real combat. With the continuous development of technology, the reliability of warships and related equipment has significantly improved."

Somali piracy on the decline

With the powerful deterrent actions of the PLA Navy and other international forces, the number of pirate attacks in the waters off Somalia has been on the decline in recent years, making the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia, which used to be called the most dangerous sea areas in the world, golden waterways again. Now, the Chinese Navy escort task forces are still expanding their tracks, effectively safeguarding the security of the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia.

After escort missions became routine, the public's attention began to wane. Zhang does not feel disappointed by this, and believes this is a step forward. "This shows that the PLA Navy's escort missions have made solid achievements," he said. "With the joint efforts of the escort task forces from many countries including the Chinese Navy, pirates in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off Somalia have been hit hard, piracy activities have decreased year by year, and the safety of this important international waterway has been effectively guaranteed. On the other hand, the normalization of escort operations is a very direct manifestation of China's active fulfillment of international obligations as a responsible major country, as well as positive results from the public security goods China has provided to the international community. At the same time, it has truly achieved the important goal of safeguarding the security of the strategic sea lanes important to China."

An increasingly powerful Chinese Navy is not only for safeguarding the sea and air of the motherland, but also for making important contributions to world peace, Zhang said.

Graphic: GT

Graphic: GT

Wang Jian and Xu Wei contributed to this story