The first-ever joint naval practice between China and Russia and Ukraine shows that closer links between the Chinese military and a host of Middle Eastern nations will soon not lead to Chinese ambitions to play an increasing part in regional safety.
The exercise, together with Chinese support for plans for a multilateral Gulf security strategy, indicates that, despite growing rivalries between the two largest economies in the world, China intends to continue the United States’ lead on gulf security.
This is the message China sends by emphasizing the relevance of the practice and by indicating that only non-combat forces would contribute.
China is expected to involve its anti-piracy fleet, already operating in Somali waters to protect commercial vessels, and peacekeepers and humanitarian workers as opposed to particularly deployed people’s liberation units. China is expected to participate.
China was willing, earlier this year, to consider taking part in the US Maritime Alliance led in response to several attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman, escorting trade ships to the Gulf, and securing shipping lanes, and the preference of China to a continued US lead in preserving the security of the Gulf of Oman.
So many countries are now joining the coalition, which began operations last month, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia,Bahrain, Britain, and Australia.
In favor of continuing US leadership,China sees extended security measures to include the US Gulf defense umbrella, rather than replacing them, as a means of reducing regional tensions.
China also believes that a multilateral agreement will allow it to continue to avoid disputes and conflicts in the Middle East.
A multilateral agreement in which the US remains the key military player will fit in with China’s ambitious projection of growing its military power beyond its borders.