China will send warships to the seas off Somalia to help international efforts to fight piracy there, the Foreign Ministry said on Thursday, in what would be the first operation of its kind for Beijing.
NATO ships began anti-piracy operations off the Somali coast in late October, but they have failed to stop the rampant hijackings, and other nations are now pitching in.
A multilateral force rescued the Chinese ship, Zhenhua 4, from Somali pirates on Wednesday. Piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean off Somalia has become a major headache as it pushes up insurance costs or forces ships to take alternative routes.
"China is making active preparations and the related deployments to send warships to the Gulf of Aden," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a news briefing, though he declined to give details.
A Chinese newspaper said China would send three ships to Somalia to prevent further attacks, but that report could not be independently confirmed.
Earlier this month, a prominent Chinese military strategist, Major-General Jin Yinan, urged the government to send ships in comments reflecting debate about combating piracy in a country which has generally confined its navy to waters near home.
China says its increasingly high-tech military forces are purely for defensive purposes. It has traditionally kept troops close to home and out of international operations, reflecting a doctrine of non-interference in other nations' affairs.
But its growing wealth and influence have led to calls for it to take a greater role protecting world peace, even as Western nations fret about its increasing military power.
It is now involved in peacekeeping operations around the world including Haiti and Sudan's troubled Darfur region, and was praised in July by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for its contribution of both funds and forces.