China on Saturday began deploying a more-than-200-strong police force to patrol the Mekong river as part of a new joint initiative with Thailand, Myanmar and Laos to boost regional security following recent attacks on ships.
The launching of the patrol marked the resumption of international shipping on the Mekong. Trading activities were suspended after an October attack on two cargo ships that left 13 Chinese sailors dead.
Five patrol boats, equipped with heavy machine guns, were deployed on Saturday to escort ten cargo vessels that set sail from the Chinese port of Guanlei, near the town of Xishuangbanna in the Yunnan province, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
“With the protection, the resumption is a new starting point for the international shipping of the Mekong River,” He Jingtao of Xishuangbanna's maritime bureau was quoted as saying by Xinhua.
The Mekong river, which has its source in China and flows through the three other countries as well as Cambodia and Vietnam, is a transport artery in the region. Shipping has suffered following the October attack, which underscored persisting security fears amid a rise in regional smuggling networks and the drug trade.
Chinese authorities did not release information on how the patrols will work with those of their three neighbours, and whether they would patrol together.
The Ministry of Public Security said in a statement that the four countries were working on a “long-term mechanism on joint patrol cooperation” to crack down on crime.
Vice-Minister of Public Security Meng Hongwei said the patrols would help restore shipping services, protect passengers and reduce crimes.
“It will bring bright prospects for economic growth and people's exchanges in countries along the river and make the river a golden international waterway that is really safe, peaceful and friendly,” added Mr. He of the maritime bureau.