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Dec 12, 2011 | 23:04 GMT

3 mins read

Dispatch: The Chinese Navy's Possible Port of Call in the Seychelles

Vice President of Strategic Analysis Rodger Baker discusses the Chinese dilemma over the use of a port in the Seychelles. VIDEO TRANSCRIPT: China’s Ministry of National Defense said Dec. 12 that the Chinese navy may use ports in the Seychelles, or other countries, as ports of call for ongoing counter-piracy missions and for future deployments. The comments follow an invitation from the Seychelles for China to use the island nation’s ports and to establish a military presence on the main island of Mahe, already a regular port of call for the United States and other nation's warships and military aircraft such as U.S. UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] and French maritime surveillance aircraft. China’s response highlights a continuing debate inside the PLA [People's Liberation Army] regarding overseas basing. The PLAN [People's Liberation Army Navy] has been participating in counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and off the east coast of Africa since December 2008. Supplying and maintaining these ships at a distance has been a test of the Chinese navy’s capacity for extended deployment. As part of the resupply, China has used several ports in the region, primarily Salalah in Oman, but also Aden, Djibouti and Karachi. Resupplying from the Seychelles would mark a further expansion of the range of China’s PLAN deployments, and would be the furthest of the resupply ports from the current anti-piracy operations. Beijing arranges what are essentially ad hoc agreements to use friendly ports and facilities, avoiding the diplomatic agreements necessary to allow more established and enduring access to the facilities for the Chinese navy. This is largely due to the Chinese government's stated non-interference policies and its attempts to shape the international image of Chinese overseas military operations as purely defensive and cooperative and thus non-threatening. But this can bring China’s public image in contention with military necessity. The ad hoc arrangements have been effective thus far, but it leaves Chinese long-distance maritime operations without the means to establish more robust and reliable access and facilities, particularly in terms of forward maintenance and rearmament. For now, this appears to be a risk China is willing to take, using its political and economic leverage to ensure basic access for refueling without the formal diplomatic agreements for extended port use by the PLAN and particularly the facilities that a sustained forward presence requires. But as China continues to expand the range and role of its naval forces, this question of overseas basing agreements will intensify.
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