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Naval visits accustom Mediterranean to new role

(Global Times)

08:21, August 02, 2012

(Global Times/ Sun Ying)

For a brief moment it looked like the Chinese navy was bound to stage a major provocation, not in the maritime margins of East Asia this time, but in the Mediterranean.

On Sunday, a destroyer and a frigate ostentatiously sailed through the Suez Canal.

As the Russians had dispatched a flotilla to stage exercises off the Syrian coast, the most plausible explanation was that China would join in.

That would have been a slap in the face of the West. Luckily, the two ships steamed onward to the Bosphorus after which they navigated into the Black Sea to visit Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria.

So, there is no reason to worry. The Black Sea was one of the few places not yet covered convincingly by China's naval charm offensive, so at the most, the Chinese flotilla is now just filling that gap.

The fact that it did not seize the opportunity to hold drills together with the Russians could confirm that Beijing is not warming to the prospect of a new Cold War and continues to prefer strategic ambivalence above polarization.

But it also confirms that China considers the Mediterranean an area where it wants its navy to be present.

In 2002 the destroyer Qingdao and a replenishment ship dropped anchor in Egypt, Turkey, Ukraine, Greece, and Portugal on a yearlong journey around the globe.

In 2010, the fifth task force, which was deployed in the Gulf of Aden for combating piracy, concluded its mission by making port calls in Egypt, Italy, and Greece.
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