Chinese warships make first visit to Port Zayed

A frigate and a supply ship from an anti-pirate force are the first naval contingent from China to berth at a Middle Eastern port.

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ABU DHABI // A Chinese military official said today that the first naval contingent from China to berth at a Middle Eastern port was "conducive to global peace and stability". Two Chinese warships arrived at Port Zayed after completing a six-month mission in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea to combat piracy. The ships were part of the international naval force in the region that protects commercial ships and oil tankers, many of which have been attacked by Somali pirates in recent years. Senior Captain Quu Yanpeng, the deputy chief of staff of the East Sea Fleet, speaking during a brief reception ceremony attended by Brigadier Sheikh Saeed bin Hamdan Al Maktoum, the deputy chief of the UAE's Naval Operations, said: "We came for peace and friendship, for mutual understanding and for expanding mutual exchange.

"Our friendly co-operation is not only in the interest of our people but also conducive to the global peace and stability. The friendly exchange between our navies is an important component of our bilateral relations." China's first naval visit to the region is viewed as a reflection of the country's growing capability to protect its interest beyond its borders. The dispatching of five groups of ships since early 2009 to protect Chinese vessels in the Gulf of Aden was long expected as the country sought ways to protect its sustained economic growth and energy demands. The two vessels, which are due to leave for their base in China on Sunday, are the FFG Ma Anshan, a 135-metre frigate, and the supply ship Qian Daohu. They have escorted more than 6,000 Chinese and foreign ships, according to Xinhua, China's state news agency.

China's ambassador to Abu Dhabi, Gao Yu Sheng, said: "The ships - have succeeded in repelling attacks against many ships. They've contributed to protecting Chinese and non-Chinese ships." Mr Gao said Abu Dhabi had been chosen as the first country for such a visit "because of the strength of political ties between our two countries, and the development that have been witness by the Emirates in recent years". According to forecasts by the US Energy Information Administration, China will import nearly six million barrels of oil per day from the region by 2030. The figure was 1.8 million barrels per day in 2008, making the region the largest supplier of crude oil to China.

Most of the oil comes from Saudi Arabia, with Kuwait and Oman as other sources. During a visit to Beijing last summer by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, the two countries signed multiple agreements, including two pertaining to the military and oil industry. Mr Gao said the two countries were now negotiating to sign "soon, this year" an agreement for China to import oil from the UAE.

China is also expanding in other sectors, mainly construction. In the past two years, Chinese companies have won 18 major projects in the Emirates worth Dh4.8 billion (US$1.3bn). Observers say Chinese contractors are rapidly setting a firm foot across the region. Mr Gao said China has a stake in maintaining stability in the Gulf. "The Gulf is an area that has enjoyed close ties with China," he said. "Maintaining security in the Gulf is vital to the area and the world, including China." The two vessels that have arrived in Port Zayed reflect China's blue-water reach. Although the country is projected to acquire an aircraft carrier in the next five to 10 years, China has focused in its military modernisation on building fast-attack missile patrol boats, dock landing ships, frigates and destroyers, many with stealth and other high-tech features.

The country's three fleets, the North Sea, South Sea, and East Sea Fleets, operate 780 ships, including nearly 60 submarines.