The ongoing deployment of Chinese naval vessels to the troubled Gulf of Aden signals an important step in the evolution of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Observers of China's growing naval fleet have long imagined scenarios that might prompt the PLAN to exercise blue-water capability. Few predicted the precise series of events that has revealed this new era of Chinese maritime security.
From 16 to 18 December 2008, Somali pirates tried and failed to hijack a Chinese merchant vessel; the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) provided expanded authority to pursue pirates into sovereign Somali territory; and Chinese officials announced that the PLAN would send three naval vessels to support counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, off the Horn of Africa. The result: On 6 January 2009, Chinese destroyers joined a multinational constellation of naval vessels in cooperation with the Somali Transitional Federal Government to combat piracy.1