China Makes a Strategic Move in the Middle East Ahead of Biden-Xi Meeting

'Oman is strategically placed to monitor and if need be, control access to the Persian Gulf,' former military expert.
China Makes a Strategic Move in the Middle East Ahead of Biden-Xi Meeting
Old boats are seen along the coast line along the Strait of Hormuz off Oman on March 13, 2012. (Karim Sahib /AFP/Getty Images)
News Analysis
In the Middle East, the Chinese regime has positioned itself as a staunch ally of Iran and Syria given their hostility toward the United States. Meanwhile, the Chinese regime is also attempting to extend its influence to traditional U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf region. On Oct. 11, Chinese state media reported that a Chinese naval task force visited Oman to facilitate "friendship" and "cooperation" with the country. Oman is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and has traditionally been an ally of the United States. The White House revealed on Nov. 10 that President Joe Biden spoke to the Sultan of Oman to reaffirm the enduring ties between the two countries amid the Israel-Hamas war. This was only 5 days before the highly anticipated meeting between Mr. Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping. 

Military officials from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) reportedly proposed the idea of a Chinese military base in Oman to their Omani counterparts last month. This move would form a part of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) attempt to establish bases in the Middle East and the Indian Ocean in line with its expansionist military agenda.

Oman is located on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering the Arabian Sea to the south and east, and the Gulf of Oman to the northeast. Most importantly, the Strait of Hormuz runs between Iran and Oman, which is a strategic location as it is the only sea passage from the oil-rich Persian Gulf to the rest of the world.

China’s Expansion to the Middle East

Carl Schuster, former director of operations at the U.S. Pacific Command's Joint Intelligence Center in Hawaii, spoke to The Epoch Times, "China's pursuit of Middle East bases signals China's growing interests in the Middle East in general and the Persian Gulf in particular. It is my belief that Beijing hopes to establish a limited but significant permanent presence in the Western Indian Ocean and Middle East."

Mr. Schuster explained that China chose to establish a military base in Oman due to its strategic position. "Oman is strategically placed to monitor and if need be, control access to the Persian Gulf, which is the source for approximately 50% of the PRC's petroleum imports. Also, it provides the PLA a base close to Gwadar, facilitating China's ability to protect oil and liquefied natural gas shipments to that port for overland transport by pipeline. Oman also gives China options if relations with Iran or Pakistan sour."

In addition to protecting China's oil lifeline, Oman is also militarily important to the Chinese regime. “It will alter the maritime balance of power in the Western Indian Ocean," Mr. Schuster said. “U.S. Navy operations in the Indian Ocean, as well as India's, will have to take the PLA presence into consideration during increased tensions or crises.”

In 2017, China established a military base in the African country of Djibouti, marking its first overseas military base. “Oman is 1330nm from the Chinese base in Djibouti. Maritime Patrol Aircraft in both locations would provide redundant and complimentary coverage of the Arabian Gulf and Gulf of Aden, as well as the Western Indian Ocean," Schuster said. “Also, an Oman base would facilitate PLAN operations in the Persian Gulf and provide a counterbalance to the USN base in Bahrain and India's Western Command."

Gwadar Port in Pakistan is a crucial part of the CCP's "Belt and Road Initiative" program and the China-Pakistan "all-weather strategic cooperative partnership." Gwadar Port is located on the eastern flank of the Gulf of Oman, off the Strait of Hormuz, opposite Oman.

The CCP has already leased several ports in the Indian Ocean. In addition to Gwadar Port, China also controls the port in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The China Harbour Engineering Company invested US$1.4 billion in Sri Lanka to reclaim a 665-acre site in Colombo from the sea. In return, the company was granted 43 percent of the land on a 99-year lease. Mr. Schuster believes that the Chinese Communist Party will encircle India with a series of bases and ports along the Indian Ocean coast.

"Oman is about 1,500 nautical miles from Gwadar, Pakistan, and 2,200 nautical miles from Colombo, Sri Lanka,” he said. “It is my belief that China is considering a series of bases in the Indian Ocean by 2030 that would stretch from Myanmar to the Maldives, then to the Seychelles to Djibouti and Durbin, South Africa. That would encircle India and provide the PLAN bases to protect China's critical sea lanes over which most of its oil and critical raw materials must transit."

China's Ambition to Establish Global Network of Military Infrastructure

Anders Corr, founder of Corr Analytics and publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, told The Epoch Times that the Chinese regime has been trying to build a global network of military bases for years.

“China has for years been attempting to build a network of global military bases,” he said. “A new one in Oman will assist it on multiple levels, including its ‘string of pearls’ strategy to control trade with Europe and the Middle East, and its apparent attempt to surround India through strengthened economic and military links to countries on its land and maritime borders.”

The so-called "String of Pearls" strategy is a concept developed by Indian political commentators, describing their speculations about China’s intentions to exert influence in the Indian Ocean. It refers to Chinese civilian and CCP military installations between China and the Port Sudan on the edge of the Horn of Africa, and its importance to China's vital shipping lanes.

“Beijing in particular seeks military bases at major global trade chokepoints, including Djibouti, which it has, Singapore, and now Oman,” said Mr. Corr. “Djibouti has a commanding presence over the Bab al-Mandab Strait between the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, Oman sits at the Strait of Hormuz, and Singapore is at the Strait of Malacca. All three straits are major choke points for shipping between the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, and will assist the CCP in achieving control of international trade, and in its long-term goal of global hegemony."

The Middle East’s Importance for the CCP’s Goal of Global Dominance

The Middle East is an important target in the CCP's global agenda. China's ambition to subvert the "petrodollar" can be seen in the regime's attitude towards the Israel-Hamas war. After the Hamas terrorists’ brutal attack on Israel on Oct. 7, the United States has fully supported Israel. China, however, has directed its criticism at Israel. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi claimed that Israeli military actions were "beyond the realm of self-defense." China's implicit support for Hamas should not come as a surprise since the Chinese regime supports Iran and Syria.

In February, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi visited Beijing. The two authoritarian regimes signed 20 agreements in the areas of trade, transportation, information technology, tourism, agriculture, and crisis response, which could be worth billions of dollars.

In September, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited China and was received with the highest honors. The CCP even ordered the historic Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou, China, to break a thousand-year-old tradition and open its main gate to welcome the Syrian dictator.

Iran and Syria are sworn enemies of Israel and the United States. After the United States sent troops to the Middle East to aid Israel, Iranian-backed militants launched multiple attacks on U.S. military bases in Syria and Iraq. On Nov. 10, a Syrian-based organization launched a drone that crashed into a school in Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat.

The Chinese regime seeks to undermine the "petrodollar" by supporting anti-American forces in the Middle East, where the United States and Saudi Arabia agreed to use the U.S. dollar as the currency for trading oil from back in the 1970s. The U.S. dollar subsequently became the world’s dominant reserve currency.

In the past six years, China has been negotiating and pushing Saudi Arabia to use the Chinese yuan as the currency for oil. At the same time, China has been working hard to cozy up to Saudi Arabia. CCP-backed companies have been investing significantly in projects that are valued by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the CCP has helped Saudi Arabia to produce ballistic missiles and has given advice on a potential nuclear program.

Jenny Li has contributed to The Epoch Times since 2010. She has reported on Chinese politics, economics, human rights issues, and U.S.-China relations. She has extensively interviewed Chinese scholars, economists, lawyers, and rights activists in China and overseas.