HONG KONG — In what would be the first active deployment of its warships beyond the Pacific, China appears set to send naval vessels to help fight hijackers in the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden.
A vice foreign minister and a leading naval strategist were quoted in Chinese state media on Wednesday as saying that Beijing was close to mounting a naval mission in the gulf.
"China is seriously considering sending naval ships to the Gulf of Aden and waters off the Somali coast for escorting operations in the near future," said the Foreign Ministry official, He Yafei, quoted by Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency.
Li Jie, a military strategist and naval expert, told the state-run China Daily newspaper that cooperating with a multinational force operating against East African pirates would be a "very good opportunity" for the Chinese navy.
On Wednesday, an international antipiracy force rescued a Chinese cargo ship that had been taken over by pirates, the Associated Press reported. After the crew sent a distress signal, the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center dispatched two helicopters that fired at the ship, causing the pirates to flee, the news agency reported.
About 60 percent of China's imported oil comes from the Middle East, and much of that passes through the gulf, along with huge shipments of raw materials from Africa.
Last month, two Chinese ships were hijacked there, a fishing trawler and a Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship carrying wheat.