From Somalia to the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca, Beijing is increasingly seeking to project naval power, a sharp break from its traditional, narrower strategy of patrolling the Chinese coast. Military leaders in China maintain that the Chinese navy is purely a self-defense force, but this definition has now expanded to encompass broad maritime and economic interests. "With our naval strategy changing now, we are going from coastal defense to far sea defense," Rear Adm. Zhang Huachen, deputy commander of the East Sea Fleet, said in an interview with Xinhua, the state news agency. According to experts, the Chinese navy receives more than one-third of the country's overall military budget, reflecting the priority Beijing places on maintaining open sea lanes for resources and manufacturing as a vital element of national security.
Above, Chinese sailors wave goodbye before heading to the Gulf of Aden on Feb. 21 in Zhoushan. The 8th Chinese Naval Escort Fleet, which consists of two missile frigates -- the Ma'anshan and Wenzhou -- left for Somali waters to protect merchant ships from rampant piracy in the area. The two ships will be joined by the Qiandaohu, a supply ship that is already patrolling the waters with the 7th Escort Fleet.