The move was welcomed by the U.S. military, which has been escorting cargo ships in the region along with India, Russia and the European Union. But analysts predicted the Chinese intervention could be troubling to some Asian nations who might see it as a sign of the Chinese military becoming more aggressive.
The naval force that set sail from southern Hainan on Friday afternoon included a supply ship and two destroyers — armed with guided missiles, special forces and two helicopters. China announced it was joining the anti-piracy mission Tuesday after the U.N. Security Council authorized nations to conduct land and air attacks on pirate bases.
Pentagon spokesman Maj. Stewart Upton said the U.S. welcomed China's move.
While any moves toward greater world cooperation in the fight against terrorism, piracy or rogue, would-be nuclear states are cause for guarded optimism, the prospects of a fuel hungry China with a beefed up naval presence is cause for long term concern and vigilance on the part of the United States:
For several decades, China has kept a massive army focused on protecting its land borders, while the country's navy was relatively weak. But in recent years, as China became more deeply involved in the global economy, it concluded that a stronger navy was needed to protect its increasingly vital sea shipments of oil, raw materials and other goods.
China has been rapidly beefing up its navy with new destroyers, submarines and missiles. Naval officers have even been talking about building an aircraft carrier that could help the navy become a "blue-water" force — a fleet capable of operating far from home.
Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Center in Hawaii, said the naval buildup and the mission to Somalia are the latest signs that China is no longer willing to rely on the U.S. or other foreign navies to protect its increasingly global interests.
"China has not been dissuaded from entering the field," Roy said. "That leaves open the possibility of a China-U.S. naval rivalry in the future."
As China ambitiously seeks to bolster its industrial growth as a superpower while closing the technological military gap with the United States, its new found desire to make the world safe for commerce should be kept under close scrutiny by political and military planners. The threat of communist China flexing its muscles in the backyard or the high seas to obtain economic or military leverage is cause for greater concern to the West than even the reincarnation of Blackbeard himself.