China has officially announced that it is indeed sending naval ships to join international efforts to combat pirates who have been hijacking ships off the coast of Somalia.
Somalia is thousands of kilometers away from China. But foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao says Beijing is making active preparations to send warships to the Gulf of Aden.
Liu says piracy has become an international enemy, posing a great threat to international navigation, trade and security. He gave no details of the Chinese deployment, but said information would be forthcoming soon.
The Chinese spokesman says nearly 1300 Chinese ships have passed through the area in the first 11 months of this year. In the same period, he says there have been seven pirate attacks on Chinese ships or crews.
This includes one on a Chinese cargo ship that was attacked, Wednesday, off the coast of Somalia. The Chinese crew was rescued with the help of an international anti-piracy force that sent in attack helicopters.
Liu says another Chinese vessel and 18 Chinese sailors are still being held by Somali pirates.
The Chinese warships would represent an unprecedented deployment of the country's navy. They would be joining an international flotilla, which includes vessels from the United States, Russia, Denmark and Italy.
Rampant piracy in the busy Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, near Somalia, has become a growing problem, driving up insurance costs and forcing ships to take alternate routes.
China has traditionally kept its troops close to home, reflecting its consistent policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of another country. But, as China's economic clout has grown, it has become increasingly involved in peacekeeping operations around the world, including in Haiti and in Sudan's troubled Darfur region.