The United States says the joint exercises pose no new threat, but deeper ties between the rival states will be “monitored.”
Naval forces from China, Iran and Russia are organizing joint exercises in the Gulf of Oman this week, Beijing said, amid heightened tensions with the United States.
“This exercise will help deepen practical cooperation between the navies of the participating countries… and bring positive energy to regional peace and stability,” China’s Ministry of National Defense said in a statement on Wednesday.
It added that other countries are also participating in the “Security Bond-2023” exercises, without providing details.
Iran, Pakistan, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates all have coastlines along the Gulf of Oman, which sits at the mouth of the strategic Persian Gulf.
Beijing sent the guided missile destroyer Nanning to participate in the exercises aimed at sea search and rescue and other non-combat missions. China maintains its only foreign military base, complete with a naval pier, in Djibouti, a country in the Horn of Africa, across the Gulf of Oman.
The exercises scheduled for Wednesday through Sunday come amid heightened tensions between the US and China over a range of issues, including China’s refusal to criticize Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine and continued support for the Russian economy .
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the White House was not concerned about the joint training exercise as it was not the first time the Russians and Chinese had trained together.
“We are going to look into it, we will of course monitor it to make sure this training exercise does not pose a threat 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 will look after it as closely as possible.”
The three countries held similar exercises last year and in 2019, underlining China’s growing military and political ties to nations largely shunned by the US and its partners.
The US and its allies have condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, imposed economic sanctions on Russia and supplied defensive weapons to Ukraine, while China’s closer ties with Moscow raised questions about its possible willingness to provide military aid to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Iran and the US have been adversaries since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979 and the hostage-taking of US diplomats.
Last week, China hosted talks between Iran and its main Middle Eastern rival, Saudi Arabia, which resulted in an agreement between them on Friday to restore full diplomatic relations after seven years of tensions.
While the US and Saudi Arabia have long had military and political ties, relations have been frayed by the 2018 assassination of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the kingdom’s leadership, and production cuts by the OPEC+ oil cartel , which the government said helped Russia.
China’s host of the recent Iran-Saudi talks placed it in the unusual role of a mediator in regional conflicts, a role Beijing seems eager to cash in on.