As the Israel-Hamas war rages on, big powers are growing their military presence in the Middle East. China stationed six warships there, including two missile destroyers. The U.S. also sent two carrier strike groups to the region as a message of deterrence.
The Chinese warships belong to two task forces. One of them has been there on an escort mission for six months. The other three ships are there to replace them.
“But the old task force didn’t return to China after handing over the mission to the new one. It’s still lingering in the Middle East, saying it’s staying to visit friendly countries, which is quite unusual,” Tang Jingyuan, a China Affairs Analyst, said.
The two task forces exchanged missions on Oct. 2, five days before the Israel-Hamas war broke out. But the ships have stayed in the region, visiting countries like Kuwait and Oman.
Mr. Tang says the Chinese warships are there to send a signal: that Beijing has influence in the region. He noted having a military presence there also is a show of support for countries close to Beijing. And in essence, it counters the U.S. presence there.
The Middle East pumps half of the world’s oil, and Beijing has been competing with the U.S. for influence in the region. Most recently it brokered a peace deal between two deadly rivals: Iran and Saudi Arabia. The two resumed their diplomatic relations after cutting ties for seven years.
Saudi Arabia has historically been a U.S. ally. It’s the world’s largest crude oil producer. But Washington’s relations with Saudi hit a low point after President Biden criticized Saudis over the killing of a Saudi journalist.
On the other hand, Beijing has been propping up Iran amid Western sanctions, buying its oil, and sending it weapons.
Beijing also has been supporting terrorist activists in the Middle East. Former Chinese Communist Party leaders had close ties with Yasser Arafat, a late terrorist leader in the region. Reports said Beijing guided Palestine on how to wage conflict with the U.S. and Israel and provided it with weapons, money, and training.