Saudi Arabia and China are set to hold their second-ever joint naval exercise as Riyadh continues to move closer to Beijing, AFP reported on Thursday.
“This joint training focuses on overseas maritime counter-terrorism operations, conducting exercises on sniper tactics, boat driving, helicopter landing, and joint rescue,” said Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian.
The drills will take place in October in China’s southern Guangdong province. The last time Saudi Arabia and China held joint naval exercises was in 2019.
Wu said Saudi Arabia and China are “aiming to deepen practical and friendly cooperation between the two militaries and improve the level of practical training for the troops.”
The new drills come as the Biden administration is discussing the idea of a mutual defense treaty with Riyadh as part of a potential normalization agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel. The US is looking to counter China’s influence in the Middle East, but that has not swayed the Saudis from forging stronger ties with Beijing.
The US and Israel envisioned the normalization deals between Arab states and Israel, known as the Abraham Accords, turning into an anti-Iran NATO-style alliance in the Middle East. But a Chinese brokered rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran has thrown a wrench into those plans.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia’s recent diplomatic maneuverings and growing ties with China give Riyadh a lot of leverage to get what it wants out of the US for normalizing with Israel. According to The New York Times, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman regards a potential mutual defense treaty with the US as “the most important element in his talks with the Biden administration about Israel.”