China's fast-modernizing navy is stepping up training for anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia in a sign of its growing long-term commitment to overseas missions.
The first two-week course for 84 leading officers began this week at the Naval Command College in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing, the website of the military newspaper Liberation Army Daily said Friday. The officers will run drills and discuss military theory and experiences from China's previous anti-piracy missions, it said.
China first launched the anti-piracy patrols in December 2008, joining an international flotilla aiming to protect shipping in the Gulf of Aden. More than a dozen separate missions have followed, each consisting of two of the navy's most sophisticated missile frigates accompanied by a support ship.
The patrols marked a major break with the navy's traditional role of protecting China's coastal region, as well as Beijing's oft-stated opposition to foreign military interventions or overseas bases.
Along with boosting the navy's blue water capabilities in operations and resupply, the patrols appear to have whetted Beijing's appetite for even more ambitious missions.
In recent years, the navy has dispatched ships as far away as the Caribbean, and last year sent vessels to the Mediterranean to escort ships evacuating Chinese citizens from Libya.
Such moves have been facilitated by a wide-ranging naval upgrade fueled by double-digit annual increases in Chinese defense spending. Along with new destroyers, submarines and naval aircraft, Beijing last year began sea trials on its first aircraft carrier, a refurbished model purchased from Ukraine more than a decade ago.
Cooperation with Ukraine and Russia have been at the heart of the military upgrade, and the Chinese chief of staff, Gen. Chen Bingde, and his deputy, Gen. Ma Xiaotian, met separately this week with delegations of top commanders from the two countries' militaries.
Chen was quoted by the Liberation Army Daily as telling the commander of Ukraine's navy, Rear Adm. Viktor Maksimov, that China hoped to "open up more areas of cooperation" with the Ukrainian armed forces.