The government of Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday that the Saudi and Chinese navies have commenced a three-week joint exercise known as “Blue Sword.”
The first Blue Sword drill was held in 2019, near Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea port city of Jeddah. This year’s exercise was launched from the southern Chinese city of Zhanjiang, with a ceremony attended by hundreds of troops.
“The goal of the exercise is to boost the mutual trust and friendly relations between the Chinese and the Saudi Arabian navies, enhance the participants’ capabilities in naval combat and comprehensively improve the joint operational capabilities of overseas armed rescue units,” said China’s state-run Global Times.
“The three-week joint exercise will be split into a basic training phase, a professional training phase and a comprehensive drill phase that features more than 20 training subjects, including live-fire shooting, fast roping from helicopters, cabins searches, underwater reconnaissance, sniping-on-command, and underwater explosives disarming,” the Global Times said, quoting press releases from the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
“The joint training between the special warfare units of the two navies is of great significance to deepening the pragmatic and friendly cooperation between the two militaries and improving the actual combat training level of the troops,” said the PLAN commander in charge of the exercise.
The Blue Sword drill is reportedly built around the simulated hijacking of a commercial ship, which must be rescued by Chinese and Saudi naval special operations forces.
When the Saudi-Chinese exercise was announced in September, the Jerusalem Post saw it as part of China’s effort to “play an increased role” in the Middle East and burnish its credentials as a naval power, particularly in the field of anti-piracy.
China has conducted similar joint exercises with Russia and Iran, as well as conducting anti-piracy escort missions in hot zones like the Gulf of Aden and the waters near pirate-prone Somalia. The Chinese are particularly sensitive to piracy as their Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) spreads Chinese investments into areas with dodgy security situations.
The Blue Sword program happens to have landed in the midst of the Hamas attack on Israel, a fact noted by many observers, but evidently not mentioned in public by the participants of the exercise.
The Eurasian Times thought the timing might work to China’s advantage:
The drills are significant as they come in the wake of China seeking closer ties with Saudi Arabia, including military cooperation. In contrast, the relationship between traditional allies Saudi Arabia and the United States has come under strain recently, especially after the Ukraine War and Riyadh’s stance on volumes of oil production.
China has continued to see the strain in Saudi ties with the US as a window, which, according to analysts, became most evident when it swooped to facilitate an agreement this year in which historical adversaries Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to fix relations and re-open their respective diplomatic missions.
“Needless to say, with the Hamas attacks, the U.S. attempts to broker peace between Saudi Arabia and Israel are believed to have fallen flat,” the Eurasian Times added.
The Saudis were reportedly close to finalizing a deal with Israel to normalize relations, but those talks were suspended after Hamas attacked and Israel began retaliatory operations in Gaza.