China betting on Oman to expand its military presence in the Middle East
Beijing is reportedly planning a greater role in the Middle East, as part of its global military challenge to US dominance in the Persian Gulf. So far, senior government officials have not commented. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) is accelerating plans to build a blue-water navy.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – China is expanding its military capabilities in the Persian Gulf. According to some reports, Beijing is planning a new base in Oman while the Bloomberg agency reports that US President Joe Biden has also been informed of the issue, in particular the presence of a new Chinese naval facility in the Middle Eastern country.
The initiative is part of a broader effort by China to boost its war potential globally and to accelerate the navy's transformation by providing it with a blue-water capability.
Well-informed sources say the US president received reports about Chinese military officials discussing the issue with their Omani counterparts in October. Experts say it is plausible that Beijing and Muscat have agreed to further talks in the weeks to come.
China's foreign ministry declined to respond directly to media questions about the naval base, but said in a statement that cooperation with Oman had yielded fruitful results.
For his part, US President Biden recently called Omani ruler Sultan Haitham and held an in-depth discussion with him about the general situation in the Middle East, although he did not specifically mention the Chinese military base project.
If these talks are largely predictable in view of Oman’s role as mediator (which relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran), it should be noted that a Chinese Navy fleet visited Oman in October. On that occasion, it held a joint drill with the Omani Navy in the waters near the Omani capital.
Currently, Oman is one of China's largest oil suppliers. After the Arab country joined its Belt and Road Initiative, China invested heavily in crude oil refining projects and bought land in the port of Duqm, where oil refining plants are concentrated.
Analysts believe that behind plans for a military base, there is a need to secure energy supplies and enhance China's influence in the area, further challenging the decades-long power of the United States in the Persian Gulf.
The US, UK, and Japanese ships routinely get oil and food supplies in Oman. The US Navy has military bases in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Hence, a Chinese naval presence would represent a challenge to the US’s traditional power in the region.
What is certain is that China is further expanding its involvement in Middle East affairs, especially after a partial US disengagement in recent years.
In fact, in the aftermath of the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas, Beijing tried to mediate between the warring parties.
At the start of the year, Iran and Saudi Arabia announced that they had ended the diplomatic confrontation after holding talks in Beijing, further sign of China’s influence in the region.
Once completed, the base will have intelligence and logistics functions and may provide services for international actions against pirates in the Gulf area and in the waters near Somalia, a key element in the protection of global maritime trade so important to China.
China's first overseas military base in Djibouti became functional and operational in 2017. Two years later, in 2019, a pier at the base was completed, capable of accommodating China’s new aircraft carriers.
China is also involved in another project to build a naval base in Ream, Cambodia. While denying that it is a military base, satellite photos show that the projected pier is very similar to the one in China’s military base in Djibouti.
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