Friday, December 26, 2008

Fighting Somali pirates - UN says no, China says yes

A follow up now on a story from last week about the pirates of Somalia.

Condi Rice's last foray to the UN has landed with a thud. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the day after the Security Council of the UN approved Condi's proposal that the time was not right to send peacekeepers to Somalia. Most of the UN seemed to agree - Ban said that he talked to 50 nations about the proposed mission, only one or two offered to send troops while one other said they would provide money, but no soldiers, meaning 47 wanted no part of the idea.

In the rather tortured way that diplomats speak, Ban made an important point - that right now there is no peace in Somalia for the peacekeepers to keep. He said that a better approach to the problem is for countries to help strengthen a mission already underway by the African Union that is providing troops to the Somali government to help them fight the rebel Islamic groups that control much of the central and southern parts of the country, and to help the Somalis build up their own military so they can provide their own security in the future. Right now the weak Somali government only controls part of the capital city Mogadishu and one other southern city, leaving the rest of the nation to Islamists, separatists and, of course, the pirates. Not surprisingly, Rice disagreed with Ban and said if the UN didn't step in the situation would only get worse.

China, meanwhile, is joining the fight against the pirates at sea.

With great fanfare on Thursday, China dispatched two destroyers and a supply ship to patrol the waters off the Somali coast. It will take the Chinese fleet about ten days to reach Somalia and they may remain there for as long as three months.

It is a historic mission for China - the first time that their navy has operated so far from their home waters. It also has to been seen a sign of China's growing strength as a world and military power, in the past China has tended to maintain a neutral position on conflicts around the world, not wanting to get personally involved. Sending their navy to Somalia, even if it is just two ships, marks a real change in China’s approach to foreign policy – from observer to participant.

To think about it another way, the last time a Chinese fleet operated off the coast of Africa was nearly 600 years ago during the time of China's great maritime exploration in the 15th century. They will join ships from the navies of the United States, European Union, and Russia among other countries.
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