China, Iran, Russia launch joint drills near Gulf of Oman, safeguard regional maritime security
Published: Mar 12, 2024 10:38 PM
Chinese warships arrive in waters near Chabahar, Iran, on March 11, 2024. The navies of China, Iran, and Russia are holding joint naval drills in the Gulf of Oman from March 11 to 15, the Ministry of National Defense of China announced on Monday. Photo: VCG

Chinese warships arrive in waters near Chabahar, Iran, on March 11, 2024. The navies of China, Iran, and Russia are holding joint naval drills in the Gulf of Oman from March 11 to 15, the Ministry of National Defense of China announced on Monday. Photo: VCG

The naval forces of China, Iran and Russia on Monday launched an exercise near the Gulf of Oman in a joint effort to safeguard regional maritime security, without targeting any third country or current regional tensions, experts said on Tuesday. 

The Security Belt-2024 joint exercise kicked off on Monday local time after Chinese warships arrived in waters near Chabahar, Iran and rendezvoused with participating Iranian and Russian naval vessels, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Tuesday.

It marks the fourth joint naval exercise by the three countries since 2019.

According to an annual schedule and consensuses reached by the three countries, the joint exercise held near the Gulf of Oman started on Monday, and will last until Friday, CCTV reported.

With the theme of jointly building peace and security, the exercise mainly features anti-piracy and search and rescue training courses, and is organized in three phases, namely the harbor phase, the sea phase and the summarize phase, the report said.

China's Ministry of National Defense said in a press release on Monday that the aim of the exercise is to jointly safeguard regional maritime security.

The Security Belt joint exercise is hosted by the Iranian Navy, with more than 10 vessels from the three countries participating, CCTV reported.

The Chinese participating forces consist of three warships of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy's 45th escort task force that just wrapped up escort missions in the Gulf of Aden, namely the Type 052D guided missile destroyer Urumqi, the Type 054A guided missile frigate Linyi and the Type 903A comprehensive replenishment ship Dongpinghu, the report said, noting that the Iranian side sent over 10 vessels including the frigates Alborz and Jamaran, while the Russian side sent the guided missile cruiser Varyag and the large anti-submarine warfare ship Marshal Shaposhnikov.

"The joint drills are conducive to enhancing exchanges and cooperation among the Chinese, Iranian and Russian navies, and it further displayed [the three countries'] will and capability in jointly safeguarding maritime security and actively building a maritime community with a shared future," Liang Dong, a member of the PLA Navy's 45th escort task force, said in the CCTV report.

Zhuo Hua, an international affairs expert at the School of International Relations and Diplomacy of Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the fourth edition of the joint naval exercise by China, Iran and Russia indicates that the drill has become regular.

Such regular exercises can enhance the three countries' traditional friendship, boost their interoperability at sea, elevate pragmatic cooperation, and safeguard navigation safety in important international sea lanes in the region, Zhuo said.

Envoys from the militaries of Azerbaijan, India, Kazakhstan, Oman, Pakistan, and South Africa are in attendance as observers of the joint exercise, Russian media outlet RT reported on Monday.

Zhuo said that the participation of the six countries as observers signals their recognition of the exercise, as the drill focuses on joint efforts on peace and stability with high multilateral inclusiveness, and it does not point to traditional military confrontation.

The Security Belt joint exercise is expected to win more recognition and positive responses in the international community, and more participants could join in the future, Zhuo said.

Western media including VOA linked the trilateral exercise with current tensions in the Red Sea and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, saying that some US officials have previously expressed concern over growing military ties between the three countries.

Slamming these Western reports as unprofessional, a Chinese military expert who requested for anonymity told the Global Times on Tuesday that China, Iran and Russia have started to regularly hold joint exercises in the region long before the current tensions in the Middle East, and that the Gulf of Oman is an entire Arabian Peninsula away from Gaza and the Red Sea.

The Gulf of Oman is another important international sea lane that needs peace and stability, and the trilateral exercise provides that, the expert said.

Zhang Junshe, another Chinese military expert, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the China-Iran-Russia joint exercise does not target any other country, nor is it related to the regional situation.

The US should reflect on itself, because the US' military exercises with its allies are often linked with geopolitics, many of which held in the Asia-Pacific region were pointed at China, Zhang said.