Chinese navy ends Persian Gulf visits to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and United Arab Emirates
Expanded presence of Beijing’s maritime forces included escorting commercial ships and patrolling for pirates in Gulf of Aden
A Chinese navy task force has finished visits to four Persian Gulf states as the nation’s increasingly capable maritime force expands its presence in the strategically vital region.
The three ships departed from Kuwait on Sunday after stopping in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the Defence Ministry said on its website on Monday.
They had previously completed an assignment escorting commercial shipping and patrolling for pirates in the Gulf of Aden, the 24th Chinese task force to be dispatched for such duties since Beijing joined the multinational effort in December 2008.
China’s navy has used the patrols to build its capacity to operate far from home ports and expand its use of the military as a tool of diplomacy following the model of other major nations.
In its report, the ministry said the visits aimed to stir interest in China’s project to link European and Asian economies along the ancient Silk Road land and sea routes.
The Horn of Africa nation already hosts US, French and Japanese bases for logistical support and to facilitate African military operations.
Japan, China’s longtime Asian rival, is now seeking to expand its Djibouti facility as a counterweight to China’s presence, Japanese media have reported.
The patrols have also given China ready access to the Mediterranean, and, in 2011, it took the unprecedented step of sending one of its most sophisticated warships together with military transport aircraft to help in the evacuation of about 35,000 Chinese citizens from Libya.
In 2015, China detached three navy ships from the anti-piracy patrols to rescue Chinese citizens and other foreign nationals from fighting in Yemen.
The same year, it took part in its first Mediterranean joint naval exercises with Russia.
The Chinese task force making the recent visits consists of the guided-missile destroyer Harbin, the guided-missile frigate Handan and the supply ship Dongpinghu.