The Chinese naval escort taskforce had completed 1,331 convoy missions of 6,824 ships, 3,557 of which are ships from foreign merchant and international organizations. Credit: Xinhua.

In an unusual twist, an Indian sea captain is thanking the Chinese navy for keeping his crew and its cargo safe in pirate infested waters.

While diplomatic relations between India and China remain strained over the ongoing border dispute in Ladakh, the situation is much warmer on the high seas, where both nations face real threats to merchant shipping and enjoy some common ground.

According to a report in The Global Times, the Chinese navy on Saturday successfully escorted an Indian oil tanker carrying 31 Indian crew members to a designated sea area in the Gulf of Aden and received a thank-you note from the tanker’s captain.

The 35th fleet of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy successfully escorted three foreign merchant ships, including Indian Crude Oil Tanker “MT Desh Gaurav,” Panamanian Chemical Tanker “Rabigh Sunshine” and Marshall Islands Bulk Carrier “Pan Clover,” to their destinations on Saturday after a two-day journey, Global Times reported.

The Desh Gaurav left Ras Gharib port in Egypt, sailed eastward through the Gulf of Aden and returned to Vadinar in India. The ship had a safety capsule but no security personnel on board, forcing them to apply for an escort from the Chinese navy. 

The Gulf of Aden is known as the most dangerous waters in the world for pirate attacks, Global Times reported.

Yang Aibin, chief of staff of the escort taskforce, said that the Chinese navy sent guided-missile destroyer Taiyuan to escort foreign ships along the way, and the other two Chinese vessels Jingzhou and Chaohu were waiting in a certain sea area to provide regional escort for passing ships.

“As the captain, this is the second time I have sailed through the Gulf of Aden. A few days ago, when I was sailing westwards, I applied for a Chinese naval escort for the first time, accompanied by the frigate named Jingzhou,” the Indian captain told the naval escort translator Cai Lingong.

The captain said that although he has never been to China, the Chinese naval escort taskforce has been providing “safe and efficient” escort operations year after year, which are admirable and trustworthy, Global Times reported.

As of Saturday, the Chinese naval escort taskforce had completed 1,331 convoy missions of 6,824 ships, 3,557 of which are ships from foreign merchant and international organizations.

Tensions have been high in the China-India border since June, when Chinese and Indian border troops clashed in the Galwan Valley. 

But Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute of Tsinghua University in Beijing, said the two countries still have a lot of common interests and great space for cooperation.

He told the Global Times that the convoy “fully demonstrates the magnanimity of the Chinese military toward India,” regardless of past rifts and current disputes.

“I hope that Indians who see China as a threat will feel the goodwill of the Chinese military at this particular time, and take their political views from the high and cold lands of the Himalayas to the open ocean,” said Qian.

“Only this way can we understand the true meaning of the saying that ‘Asia and the world are large enough to accommodate the simultaneous rise of China and India’.”

Despite Qian’s optimism for a peaceful settlement on the Line of Control (LOC) in the Himalayas, China and the “Wolf Warrior” strategy of Xi Jinping — a strategy that has widely alienated its neighbours and trading partners — is unlikely to change course.