Amid the war between Israel and the Hamas militant group in the Gaza Strip, up to six Chinese warships have been operating in the Middle East over the past week, according to the Chinese Ministry of Defense.
According to a statement from the Chinese Ministry of Defense, the 44th Naval Escort Task Force has been in regular operations in the region since May. Last week, they also conducted a joint exercise with the Omani navy during a visit to Oman.
Following the successful completion of its visit to Oman, the Chinese naval escort task force arrived at Shuwaikh Port in Kuwait as scheduled on the morning of October 18. The Chinese maritime group embarked on a five-day goodwill visit to Kuwait.
“Guided by Kuwaiti naval patrol craft Failaka, warships of the Chinese task force, including ship Zibo, ship Jingzhou, and ship Qiandaohu, docked at Shuwaikh Port, Kuwait, at around 9:00 in the morning. They were welcomed by more than 200 people, including representatives of the Kuwaiti military, staff of the Chinese Embassy in Kuwait, and overseas Chinese,” the Chinese MoD said.
The task force hails from the People’s Liberation Army Eastern Theatre and comprises the Zibo, a Type 052D guided-missile destroyer, the frigate Jingzhou, and the integrated supply ship Qiandaohu.
Having arrived in the Gulf of Aden north of Somalia six months ago, the task force has primarily been escorting shipping missions. However, earlier this month, it passed on its responsibilities to the 45th Escort Task Force, according to the SCMP.
Under the command of the PLA’s Northern Theatre, the new convoy includes the Urumqi, another Type 052 destroyer, the frigate Linyi, and the supply ship Dongpinghu.
The Linyi was noted to have taken part in its first mission, escorting a Panamanian cargo vessel to an undisclosed location earlier this month.
Meanwhile, this tour marked the destroyer Zibo’s first escort mission since its commissioning in January 2020, while the Urumqi, commissioned in early 2018, had previously been involved in another escort mission in the Gulf of Aden two years ago.
Naval Presence Of China And The US In The Region
As tensions in the region continued to rise, six Chinese vessels operating in Middle Eastern waters became increasingly significant. The news of Chinese warships in the region comes when the United States is ramping up its presence there.
Following the attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7, the United States dispatched its most advanced carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, and its associated battle group to the eastern Mediterranean. The Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group is en route to the region.
The Pentagon recently announced the deployment of an additional command ship, the USS Mount Whitney, to the eastern Mediterranean.
On October 19, the USS Carney (DDG 64), an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, successfully intercepted and neutralized multiple Houthi missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles in the Red Sea.
Interceptions of Houthi launches by the United States are exceptionally uncommon, which adds to the significance of this incident, especially considering the escalating tensions in Israel.
Notably, in October 2016, the USS Mason employed countermeasures to thwart an attempted attack in the Red Sea, which was targeting the Navy destroyer and other ships nearby. In response to that incident, the United States launched sea-launched cruise missiles at Houthi radar facilities in Yemen.
Nevertheless, the presence of both Chinese and US warships serves as a clear indication of the involvement of these two global powers in the region.
This development comes when tensions have escalated between the two nations due to the Ukraine conflict, with China aligning itself with Russia.
Yet, the likelihood of these two navies directly confronting each other in this region remains relatively low, as they occasionally do in the Pacific. The Chinese Naval Task Group is engaged in a five-day goodwill visit to Kuwait.
The commander of the Chinese task force said, “This year marks the 5th anniversary of the establishment of the China-Kuwait strategic partnership and also the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative. It is hoped that this visit will help facilitate mutual understanding and trust and promote exchanges and cooperation between the two countries and militaries.”
The Chinese MoD said that throughout the visit, both sides will engage in mutual calls, visits, deck receptions, military exchanges, and cultural and sports activities.