China is sending three ships to the waters off Somalia this week, to help with international efforts to combat pirates.  Officials with China's military say this unprecedented deployment of the Chinese navy shows the country's commitment to its international obligations. 

Preparations are almost complete for Chinese navy ships to head to the Gulf of Aden, to help with international efforts to fight pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Rear Admiral Xiao Xinnian, deputy chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army Navy, says China believes the mission is significant and has major implications.

Xiao says this demonstrates that the Chinese government is committed to its international obligations and that China is a responsible major country.

Ships armed with missile cannon systems, light weapons

The Chinese grouping will include two destroyers, one supply ship, two helicopters and special operations forces.  The ships will leave Friday from southern Hainan Province.

The ships are armed with missile cannon systems and the troops will carry light weapons.  

Xiao says the Chinese ships are ready to work with the other international military ships in the region and learn from their experiences.  The Chinese Foreign Ministry says none of its officials will accompany the Chinese ships.

Xiao says the mission also demonstrates what he calls "the resolve and capability" of the Chinese navy to deal with multiple security threats, although he did not specify the other threats.

Military escorts prepared to provide rescue services for Taiwan ships

One potential flashpoint is Taiwan, a separately-governed island Beijing considers part of Chinese territory.   China has vowed to retake Taiwan by force, if necessary, and has hundreds of missiles aimed at the island.

PLA official Ma Luping says the Chinese military escorts in Africa are prepared to provide rescue services to Taiwan ships that encounter difficulties.

Ma says the two cross-Straits organizations are discussing what would be the quickest and most effective line of communication, so that Chinese navy ships can protect Taiwanese ships in the area.

Meanwhile, ministry of national defense spokesman Huang Xueping says China is considering developing an aircraft carrier.

Huang says an aircraft carrier would be a symbol of a country's overall strength and the competitiveness of its naval force.

He adds that, with China's long coastline, the Chinese navy's "sacred duty" is to safeguard the country's maritime security and uphold the sovereignty of its coastal waters.