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China claims complete credit on joint naval operation against piracy

By Prerna Mukherjee

Despite strained relations, India and China carried out a well-coordinated operation to protect a bulk carrier hijacked by Somali Pirates in the Gulf of Aden. According to the Indian Navy spokesperson, Indian naval ships INS Mumbai – a guided missile destroyer, INS Tarkash – a Russian-built guided missile frigate, INS Trishul and INS Aditya were proceeding on deployment to the Mediterranean. While passing through the Gulf of Aden, they received a distress call from a foreign merchant vessel, the MVOS35.

The Indian warships contacted the captain of the merchant vessel, who, along with the crew had locked themselves in a strong room as per standard operating procedure. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China sent a team of 18 personnel to sanitise the merchant vessel while the Indian Navy provided air cover for the operation. All the crew members on the ship were safe at the end of the joint action. 

Not a joint effort?

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said that the operation demonstrated the “effectiveness of the Chinese naval force in the field of fighting against pirates”. When questioned about the Indian Navy’s role in the operation, Hua said China’s Ministry of Defence should be approached for details. Somali pirates, in the recent weeks, have hijacked at least two vessels in the waters off Somalia and Yemen. Involved in patrolling the Somali waters since 2008, China has been eager to highlight its growing cooperation and involvement. It offers a sign of China’s growing engagement in the global commons and valuable practice for its Navy in operating far from home. China and India have been operating ships in the Gulf of Aden for several years. In May 2011, China had acknowledged the Indian Navy’s help in saving 24 Chinese sailors aboard Panama flagged bulk carrier from pirates. So what exactly happened here?

Was the omission of credit accidental?

Deep distrust persists between the two nuclear-armed Asian giants. Recently, China raised objections regarding a visit by exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama to Tawang – a region that China claims as its own territory. India and China fought a brief but bloody war in 1962 and each makes large claims on the North Eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. Furthermore, China’s opposition to India’s NSG membership and its blocking of India’s effort to declare JeM chief, Masood Azahar, as a global terrorist by the UN, highlights the strain in their relations. 


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