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China's warships in Middle East on routine escort missions, not involved in Israel-Palestine conflict


Sep 30, 2016
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The 44th and 45th Chinese naval escort taskforces hold a farewell ceremony in the Gulf of Aden. Photo: China Military Online

China's deployment of warships in the Middle East is part of the country's routine escort mission and friendly visits to the region, not an interference in the current Israel-Palestine conflict, Chinese analysts said after some Western media outlets started hyping China's navy deployment in the region.

Spokesperson from Chinese Embassy in the US Liu Pengyu in a statement to Sputnik on Sunday called for an end to the groundless hyping over the deployment of Chinese warships to the Middle East amid the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Liu's comment came after some Western media's hyping of China sending six warships to the Middle East last week, saying the arrangement was due to the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas.

According to the Chinese Military online, the 44th Chinese naval escort task force including the guided missile destroyer Zibo, the guided missile frigate Jingzhou and the comprehensive replenishment ship Qiandaohu arrived at Shuwaikh Port, Kuwait as planned on the morning of October 18 for a five-day goodwill visit. The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy had previously revealed that the 45th Chinese naval escort task force, including the guided missile destroyer Urumqi, the guided missile frigate Linyi, and the comprehensive replenishment vessel Dongpinghu, was scheduled to take over an escort mission from the 44th naval fleet in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off Somalia.

It is a routine practice to send three military ships at one time to the region for escort missions, so six ships will be present simultaneously in the region during a handover, Chinese military experts explained, noting that this has nothing to do with the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict.

The PLA Navy's escort missions in the region also allow China to react quickly to any emergencies that could arise, for example, the evacuation of Chinese nationals in Sudan earlier this year, said experts. They opined that those military ships may get involved in evacuation tasks if any situation emerges.

The Global Times learned from the Chinese embassy in Israel last Friday that China has no immediate plans to evacuate its citizens from Israel, as China's Hainan Airlines is still operating two flights per week from Tel Aviv to Shenzhen currently. But it also said the embassy is closely monitoring the situation and will make decisions accordingly.

Foreign media linked China's routine military operations in the Middle East with the US ramping up its military presence in the region.

The Pentagon said on Saturday that the US will send a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and an additional Patriot air defense missile system battalion to the Middle East.

The US has sent a significant amount of naval power to the Middle East, including two aircraft carriers, their support ships and about 2,000 marines.

Ding Long, a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times that unlike the US, China will never opt for military interference when it comes to solving international disputes. "At first, those foreign media and Western politicians accused China of not condemning Hamas, now they are distorting China's routine military operations in the region. These are all tactics they use to embroil China deeper into the conflict and smear Beijing's role in negotiations on the crisis," said Ding.

Israel's military said that its ground forces had conducted limited operations into the Gaza Strip during the night, media reported.

Speaking at a press conference during the Palestine summit in Egypt on Sunday, Zhai Jun, special envoy of the Chinese government on the Middle East issue, said the current situation in Palestine is critical, with tens of thousands of casualties and hundreds of thousands of people displaced due to the conflict. China is deeply saddened by the large number of civilian casualties and the deteriorating humanitarian situation caused by the conflict and is deeply concerned about the prospects of its further escalation.

Zhai met Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul-Gheit on Saturday, during which he called for an "immediate ceasefire and humanitarian rescue to be conducted."

Ding said that China's push for a ceasefire and humanitarian relief in the Gaza Strip has resonated among the international community, while the US' fueling the conflict and failure to curb Israel's instinct for revenge is frustrating international efforts to de-escalate the war.

Regional military forces such as Lebanon's Hezbollah will use Israel's ground operation as an excuse to get involved in the conflict, thus triggering a spillover into the wider region if such a scenario occurs, Ding explained.

He noted that the heavy US presence in the region is adding to the already heightened tensions.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Sunday that the US expects the Israel-Hamas war to escalate if regional military forces become involved, and asserted that the Biden administration is prepared to respond if American personnel or armed forces become the target of any such hostilities.

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