Chinese naval ships may soon be steaming into the Gulf of Aden to join a growing fleet of international warships fighting Somali pirates.
A first probably for a navy that has long confined itself to its own waters, the move is certain to stir interest in the strategic community stretching from New Delhi to Washington.
Chinese state media on Wednesday quoted Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei as telling a UN Security Council meeting that Beijing was considering sending naval ships on escort duty in the troubled waters.
On the face of it, as Beijing would argue, too much should not be read into its naval deployment off the Somali waters. Theirs will be one of a number of navies patrolling the region such as
the United States, India, Greece, Saudi Arabia, France, Russia, Britain and Pakistan.
Besides, Chinese vessels have been attacked by the pirates in recent months giving them as much justification for escort duty as anyone else operating there. The latest was on Tuesday when a Chinese fishing vessel was seized in the Gulf of Aden, along with three other ships including a yacht.
But China's military has been the subject of relentless scrutiny and any move it makes will be closely watched especially in regional capitals such as Tokyo and New Delhi. India, one of the biggest navies in the Indian Ocean boasting of an aircraft carrier group, has long looked over its shoulder watching for signs of a creeping Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean.