BEIJING – Naval forces from China, Iran and Russia — countries at odds with the United States — are staging joint drills in the Gulf of Oman this week, China’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday.
Other countries are also taking part in the “Security Bond-2023” exercises, the ministry said without giving details. Iran, Pakistan, Oman and the United Arab Emirates all have coastline along the waterbody lying at the mouth of the strategic Persian Gulf.
“This exercise will help deepen practical cooperation between the participating countries' navies ... and inject positive energy into regional peace and stability,” the ministry statement said.
U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Wednesday that the White House was not concerned by the joint training exercise. Kirby said the U.S. and other nations conduct training exercises all the time and this won’t be the first time that the Russians and Chinese have 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 exercises scheduled for Wednesday through Sunday come amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and China over a range of issues, including China's refusal to criticize Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine and continuing support for the Russian economy.
The U.S. and its allies have condemned the invasion, imposed punishing economic sanctions on Russia and supplied Ukraine with defensive arms. Iran and the U.S. have been adversaries since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979 and the taking of U.S. diplomats as hostages.
China has dispatched the guided missile destroyer Nanning to take part in the drills centered 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 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 U.S. and its partners.
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 U.S. and Saudi Arabia have long-standing military and political ties, relations have frayed over the 2018 killing of U.S.-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 Iran-Saudi talks placed it in the unusual role of mediator in regional conflicts, one that Beijing appears to be keen to capitalize on under the rubric of President Xi Jinping's “Global Security Initiative.”
The country's Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Affairs Xue Bing on Tuesday “further affirmed China’s readiness to work with countries in the region to contribute to peaceful regional development and build a closer China-Africa community with a shared future by implementing the outlook,” the official Xinhua News Agency quoted him as saying on a visit to Ethiopia.
China opposes "geopolitical competition by external forces (and) has no intention to and will not seek to fill the so-called vacuum or put up exclusive blocs,” Xue was quoted as saying.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.