China, Russia and Iran hold joint naval drills in Gulf of Oman

The United States says the joint drills pose no new threat, but deepening ties between the rival states will be ‘monitored’.

Chinese Navy members are seen while approaching Iran's southeastern port city of Chahbahar
The three countries held similar drills last year and in 2019 [File: Mohsen Ataei/Fars news agency/WANA/Reuters]

Naval forces from China, Iran and Russia are staging joint drills in the Gulf of Oman this week, Beijing has said, amid heightened tensions with the United States.

“This exercise will help deepen practical cooperation between the participating countries’ navies … and inject positive energy into regional peace and stability,” the Chinese Ministry of National Defence said in a statement on Wednesday.

It added that other countries were also taking part in the “Security Bond-2023” exercises, without providing details.

Iran, Pakistan, Oman and the United Arab Emirates all have coastlines along the Gulf of Oman, which lies at the mouth of the strategic Persian Gulf.

Beijing dispatched the guided missile destroyer Nanning to take part in the drills centred on search and rescue at sea and other non-combat missions. China maintains its only foreign military base, complete with a navy pier, in the Horn of Africa country of Djibouti, located just across the Gulf of Oman.

The exercises scheduled for Wednesday until Sunday come amid heightened tensions between the US and China over a range of issues, including China’s refusal to criticise Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine and continuing support for the Russian economy.

US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the White House was not concerned by the joint training exercise, as it was not the first time that the Russians and Chinese trained together.

“We’re going to watch it, we’ll monitor it, obviously, to make sure that there’s no threat resulting from this training exercise to our national security interests or those of our allies and partners in the region,” Kirby said on CNN.

“But nations train. We do it all the time. We’ll watch it as best we can.”

The three countries held similar drills last year and in 2019, underscoring China’s growing military and political links with nations that have been largely shunned by the US and its partners.

The US and its allies have condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, imposed punishing economic sanctions on Russia and supplied Ukraine with defensive arms, while China’s deepening ties with Moscow raised questions over its potential willingness to offer military aid to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Iran and the US have been adversaries since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979 and the taking of US diplomats as hostages.

Last week, China hosted talks between Iran and its chief Middle Eastern rival Saudi Arabia that resulted in an agreement between them Friday to restore full diplomatic relations after seven years of tensions.

While the US and Saudi Arabia have longstanding military and political ties, relations have frayed over the 2018 killing of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the kingdom’s leadership, and cuts in production by the OPEC+ oil cartel that the administration said was helping Russia.

China’s hosting of the recent Iran-Saudi talks placed it in the unusual role of mediator in regional conflicts, one that Beijing appears to be keen to capitalise on.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies