View Original / NYTimes / 23 Dec 13
The same day that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel of the United States blasted the actions of a Chinese ship in the South China Sea as “irresponsible,” China announced that it would deploy a military ship to work with an American vessel involved in the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.
The willingness of China to work with the United States Navy was not intended as amends for the near collision on Dec. 5 between the American guided-missile cruiser, the Cowpens, and a Chinese ship that suddenly cut across its bow.
But the declaration by China’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday that one of its navy ships would protect the American ship, the Cape Ray, which is being fitted with mobile laboratories for destroying the chemical weapons at sea, was widely seen as a desire by China to cooperate with the United States Navy in an important international operation.
Both navies are watching each other with mounting rivalry, and wariness. The Chinese Navy is showing more confidence in certain areas, particularly after launching more than a dozen new modern frigates with strong air defense capabilities.
But that does not preclude a desire by China to learn from the United States Navy, the world’s most powerful, said Lyle J. Goldstein, a professor at the China Maritime Studies Institute at the United States Naval War College in Rhode Island.
“This is a very positive and welcome signal, especially coming on the heels of the latest naval incident in the South China Sea,” Mr. Goldstein said of the offer that the People’s Liberation Army Navy work with the Americans. “Undoubtedly the PLA Navy is eager to work with the U.S. Navy in actual operations,”
The Foreign Ministry did not specify what kind of ship China would send to the operation being overseen by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the intergovernmental organization based in The Hague that verifies compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. That group has said the American vessel, the Cape Ray, will receive the chemical weapons from Syria at an unnamed port in Italy from Danish and Norwegian ships.
It was most likely that one of the new dozen or so Chinese frigates known as the Jiangkai-II would be dispatched for the operation, Mr. Goldstein said. “The PLA Navy has been building these frigates at a rapid clip for several years now,” he said.
They have been used for anti-piracy duty in the Gulf of Aden, and one was deployed off the coast of Libya in early 2011 to provide protection for ships evacuating Chinese citizens, he said. The frigates are equipped with strong air-defense capabilities. They also have anti-ship missiles, as well as anti-submarine capabilities, including a helicopter.
There may be another benefit to China for participating in the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons:
Analysts have noted for some time the disparity between China’s growing energy interests in the Middle East and its modest diplomacy in the region. “This initiative may represent an attempt by Beijing to start to rectify this perceived imbalance,” Mr. Goldstein said.