Chinese Naval Presence in Red Sea Sparks Tensions in Middle East

A Chinese naval mission with a missile frigate and guided-missile destroyer left Zhanjiang port in Guangdong province last week. It’s the 46th fleet of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army taking over an escort mission in the Gulf of Aden and Somalia waters from the 45th fleet.

The fleet consists of three ships: the guided-missile destroyer Jiaozuo, the missile frigate Xuchang, and the logistics vessel Honghu. With 700 crew members, including “special forces personnel” and two helicopters. Xinhua media in Chinese stated that the fleet prepared meticulously for scenarios like rescuing hijacked ships, combating terrorists and pirates, and underway replenishment.

The Chinese fleet’s movement has alerted the region due to increased tension at sea from Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. China has a history of missions in the region and drills with Russia and Iran.

A Type 056A Jiangdao-class corvette from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) participates in a rescue exercise in Hong Kong, China November 29, 2023. (credit: REUTERS/TYRONE SIU)

Chinese role in Gulf to watched carefully

The Chinese role is being closely monitored in the Gulf and the region as a whole. China aims to increase its influence in the Gulf but it’s uncertain if they will intervene in the Yemen coast tensions. The Houthis have targeted vessels linked to the US, UK, and Israel, avoiding provoking China, Russia, or Iran who support them.

Al-Ain media in the UAE covered the Chinese fleet extensively on February 27, analyzing China’s objectives and mission. There is speculation about China confronting Western powers in the region through its naval presence.

“China has a naval base in Djibouti, so sending new naval forces strengthens their military presence in the region,” noted an analyst. China aims to assert its presence against the West and other powers in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

China’s actions are under close scrutiny this year in light of the region’s tensions.