“I hope the Chinese do [send People’s Liberation Army navy ships to the region], and we will work closely with them,” Keating said.
“I think this could be a springboard for the resumption of dialog between the PLA forces and U.S. Pacific Command forces. So I am cautiously optimistic and hopeful,” he said.
China cancelled or postponed several planned military-to-military exchanges with the United States in early October, in response to announced U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. China’s actions reversed progress Pacom had been making in promoting closer collaboration between the two countries’ militaries.
A Chinese foreign ministry official announced this week at a U.N. Security Council meeting that China was considering sending naval ships for escort operations in the region “in the near future.”
China relies heavily on the Gulf of Aden, where more than 100 vessels have been attacked this year, for its oil imports and other maritime commerce. Six Chinese ships have been attacked, including a hijacked cargo ship that was rescued yesterday by the International Maritime Bureau’s antipiracy force.
The U.N. Security Council voted Dec. 16 to permit attacks on pirate bases on the ground. Earlier this month, the council passed a resolution that allows navies to operate within Somalia’s 12-mile territorial waters to pursue suspected pirates.
Pacom is communicating with various agencies and commands, including U.S. Central Command, which has responsibility for the Gulf of Aden, to determine ways to enhance cooperation and collaboration with China if it joins the anti-piracy effort. Keating said he plans to meet with Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the Centcom commander, in the next days to discuss this and other issues.
“We are working with the Chinese to ensure they are aware of the lanes of communication available to them” and to share pertinent intelligence in the event that they send ships, he said.
Keating called freedom of access to both the maritime and air domains critical to global supply chains. “And we concentrate on sustaining and maintaining that freedom of access,” he said.
Pacom’s strategy in the Pacific, he said, is based on three basic principles: partnership, presence and military readiness.
“We want everyone in our area of responsibility to know we are committed to security, stability and prosperity all over throughout our region, which covers over half the surface of the Earth,” Keating said.
“We are going to remain present and engaged throughout the area of responsibility,” he continued, “and we want to emphasize to our friends and allies that we will be there in the years ahead as we have been there for decades in the past.”