Chinese ships will fight pirates
Seven Chinese ships or crews have been attacked off Somalia this year
China has announced it is to send naval ships to fight rampant piracy in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia.
State media suggested the force could consist of two destroyers and a supply ship, although officials did not confirm the details of the deployment.
On Wednesday, Malaysian naval forces helped foil an attempt to hijack a Chinese ship by Somali pirates.
The latest operation is a first for Beijing, which has until now pursued a policy of military non-interference.
China's navy, along with the rest of its military, does not often stray far from home, says the BBC's Quentin Sommerville in Beijing.
But China's military spending has increased dramatically in recent years as its armed forces undergo a thorough modernisation, our correspondent says.
The US and Japan, are among those who have expressed increasing disquiet about the country's rapid military expansion.
Foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told journalists that preparations to dispatch the vessels were under way.
He said further details would be provided when the operation was formally announced.
But the state-run Global Times newspaper said two destroyers and one supply ship would depart from a Chinese naval base on Hainan island after 25 December.
On Wednesday the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution allowing foreign military forces to pursue pirates on land in Somalia, though Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said the time is not right for such a mission.
Four or five Chinese ships pass through the Gulf of Aden every day.
Seven Chinese ships or crews have been attacked in the busy shipping channel this year, Mr Liu said.
On Wednesday, the Zhenhua 4 was attacked by Somali pirates.
The crew used water cannon and bottles to try to fight off their attackers, according to local media reports. But it was the intervention of Malaysian naval forces, with support from other countries, that thwarted the pirates.